According to UNICEF, approximately 5 million children in Ethiopia are missing one or both of their parents. Children often lose their parents because of AIDS, famine, complications from child birth, or disease. Many children live on the streets and work in dangerous conditions. In Addis Ababa, nearly one-third of girls aged 10-14 are not living with their parents, and many of them have run away from forced marriages.
The result is a large population of orphans and fewer sources of aid or support. Children are running households, caring for their younger siblings at an impossibly young age. Many extended families are taking in children, but it appears this situation has reached a breaking point, as families are running out of resources to care for these children.
But there’s something I have long struggled to understand. If there are so many orphans in Ethiopia, and so fewer people to adopt them, why does it take so long?
When my husband and I started the adoption process, we were told the wait for a referral from Ethiopia was six to nine months. Just before we sent in our application paperwork, which took us months to complete, Ethiopia scaled back the case processing in an effort to be more thorough. Our agency gave us a new timeline of 10 to 14 months for a referral. And now, as I check in on some of my favorite blogs, I am seeing waits of 15 months, 18 months…
The reason for these long waits? It’s complicated. The process, the “system” – it’s all complicated. In Ethiopia or in many developing countries, babies aren’t always born in fancy hospitals. Parents don’t always receive beautifully embossed birth certificates or national identification numbers. Mothers aren’t monitored monthly for health complications. And teen mothers who were forced into marriage don’t exactly send out birth announcements to celebrate a new baby.
So when adoptive parents get in line to provide a home or family to the millions of children who need one, that line moves slowly. Government officials need documents to prove that a given child can be adopted. When those documents don’t exist, they need to investigate that child’s background, often using primitive tactics.
As it takes a long time for a child to considered adoptable, orphanages are at capacity or don’t have the means to care for more kids. So more kids remain orphans.
To truly help, we can advocate for more support agencies and sustainable aid programs. We can speak up against those who don’t understand the process and report gross misrepresentations. We can follow the rules and work with reputable agencies that don’t taint this vulnerable system.
I understand that wait times and processes can change, particularly with international adoption. And I understand that this wonderful, fulfilling, life-changing process isn’t for the faint of heart. I am constantly reminding myself that the challenges we face pale in comparison to the daily challenges of an orphan. And a little stress or a few tears are the least we can endure…for them.