In Ethiopia, “searchers” track down an adopted child’s history and birth family, often at the behest of adoptive parents in the U.S. or Europe. But as more searchers turn up stories of fraud, corruption, and worse, they are facing threats and violence, sometimes from representatives of adoption agencies that are well-known in the West.
In 2008, a 38-year old Oklahoma nurse whom I’ll call Kelly adopted an eight-year old girl, “Mary,” from Ethiopia. It was the second adoption for Kelly, following one from Guatemala. She’d sought out a child from Ethiopia in the hopes of avoiding some of the ethical problems of adopting from Guatemala: widespread stories of birthmothers coerced to give up their babies and even payments and abductions at the hands of brokers procuring adoptees for unwitting U.S. parents. Now, even after using a reputable agency in Ethiopia, Kelly has come to believe that Mary never should have been placed for adoption. She came to this determination after hiring what’s known as an adoption searcher.
Adoption searchers — specialized independent researchers working in a unique field that few outside the community of adoptive parents even know exists — track down the birth families of children adopted from other counties. In Ethiopia, searching has arisen in response to a dramatic boom in international adoptions from the country in recent years. In 2010, Ethiopia accounted for nearly a quarter of all international adoptions to the U.S. The number of Ethiopian children adopted into foreign families in the U.S., Canada, and Europe has risen from just a few hundred several years ago to several thousand last year. The increase has been so rapid — and, for some, so lucrative — that some locals have said adoption was “becoming the new export industry for our country.”