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Ethiopia restricts adoptions

90% reduction possible in move against fraud

By David Crary
Associated Press / March 11, 2011

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NEW YORK — Ethiopia, the number two source country for children adopted by Americans, implemented changes yesterday that could reduce the number of foreign adoptions by up to 90 percent, the State Department said.

US adoption agencies reacted with dismay and launched a petition drive urging Ethiopia to reconsider. The State Department warned that pending applications could encounter delays of six months or more.

The new policy, intended to reduce fraud and ease a heavy workload at Ethiopia’s youth ministry, marks a dramatic turnaround for a country that — in the eyes of US adoption advocates — has been a rare international bright spot.

According to State Department figures, 2,513 Ethiopian children were adopted by Americans in the 2010 fiscal year, second only to China as a source country. Ethiopia had been one of the few nations to significantly increase adoptions to the United States as overall foreign adoptions by Americans were dropping by 50 percent from the peak of 22,884 in 2004.

Although US adoption advocates had been concerned about adoption fraud in Ethiopia, several described the policy change as an overreaction.

The plan “is a tragic, unnecessary, and disproportionate reaction to concerns of isolated abuses,’’ said the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, which represents many US adoption agencies.

Its president, Tom DeFilipo, said he remained hopeful the policy might be reversed or modified so adoptions could proceed at a substantial pace with greater scrutiny.

According to the State Department, Ethiopia’s new policy calls for its Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs to process no more than five adoption cases per day — about 10 percent of the caseload it had been handling.

Chuck Johnson, chief executive of the National Council for Adoption, said Ethiopia has been making significant progress in improving its adoption process. He said State Department officials and adoption experts from various countries were trying to persuade Ethiopia to scrap or soften the new policy while seeking further improvements.

The State Department said the US government, other countries, and nongovernmental organizations had been offering to assist Ethiopia in upgrading its systems.

More than 4,000 Ethiopian children were adopted by foreigners last year, with the United States being the largest destination.

Adoption advocates said the new policy would result in thousands of Ethiopian children languishing for longer periods in institutions struggling to provide adequate services for them.

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