Shifting policies, stigma complicate placement of ‘Ebola orphans’

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By Jill Hodges, special to Humanosphere
A dozen years ago, a crisis like the Ebola outbreak might have led to a surge in international adoptions, as the AIDS epidemic did in Ethiopia.
The headlines from then and now are sadly similar:
What Will Become of Africa’s AIDS Orphans? (New York Times Magazine,  12/22/2002)
An Ebola Orphan’s Plea in Africa: ‘Do You Want Me?’ (New York Times, 12/14/2014)
What’s likely to be different this time is the response.
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After the Times piece on AIDS orphans ran just before Christmas in 2002, adoptions to the US from Ethiopia spiked from 105 for that year to a high of 2511 in 2010. But today, growing efforts to stem corruption in international adoptions and to keep kids better connected to their birth families, communities and homelands emphasize domestic rather than international solutions for orphaned children.
Here’s why: Finding a way to allow a child to remain in his or her home country has always been a priority in theory, if not in practice. In recent years, that priority has received more attention, particularly as evidence of corruption in international adoption has continued to emerge.
An investigation into the adoption system in Ethiopia by E.J. Graff published recently in the Pacific Standard documents what has become an increasingly familiar cycle: A limited number of humanitarian adoptions sparked by a national crisis spirals into a far larger, high-stakes international market for adopted children that exceeds local authorities’ regulatory capacity.
Graff’s report suggests that what started as an effort to place kids who legitimately needed homes eventually morphed into a situation in which some individuals and organizations were trying to round up children for the lucrative international adoption market. The report includes correspondence from the US Embassy in Ethiopia noting evidence of deception, coercion and bribery of birth mothers to feed the flow of healthy babies available for adoption on the international market.

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