Ethiopia’s orphans face life of hardship – By Jonathan Clayton (Timesonline)
The Ethiopian peasant farmer and his wife shuffled painfully into the orphanage. They were in the last stages of Aids and had only weeks to live. (more…)
The Ethiopian peasant farmer and his wife shuffled painfully into the orphanage. They were in the last stages of Aids and had only weeks to live. However, they were happy. They had heard the Franciscan nuns had found a home for their three children and had come to say farewell.
“I am so happy, they are going to stay together,” the father, Solomon, whispered as he embraced a middle-aged Mormon couple from Salt Lake City, Utah. “Now, I can die peacefully. They will go to school in America and have a future. It is good they leave here.” As they embraced their two daughters, aged 8 and 6, for the last time the tears ran freely. Their four-year-old son did not appreciate the significance of the moment and ran off to play with friends.
Sister Luthgarder, a seasoned veteran of such heart-rending adoptions, explained: “It is sad, but it is so rare they are kept together and so I am happy.” Only a week previously a brother and sister were separated: one going to Norway, the other to Canada. “The new parents said they would take them to see each other every year, but inevitably they will grow apart,” she said.
Only a fraction of Ethiopia’s burgeoning population of orphaned children, now put at five million, find their way to Kidane Meheret Children’s Home. Even fewer leave and they are certainly the lucky ones.
A few miles away, dozens of children sleep in drains at night and beg by day at the sprawling central bus station. They face constant dangers.
“Some are forced into prostitution, some are sold by relatives after their parents die, they are kept as maids and often abused,” said Dagmawi Alemayeau who runs an organisation, Forum on Street Children, which tries to fight trafficking. Most of an estimated 50,000 children on the streets of the capital, Addis Ababa, at some stage pass through the bus station where he has his office.
“Traffickers go to the rural areas … there are places where you can even buy a baby for as little as $1,” he told The Times. He always keeps an eye open at the international airport where so-called “uncles” can often be spotted boarded planes to Gulf states with teenage girls.
Across the rest of Africa, a combination of soaring populations, growing poverty and the HIV-Aids epidemic has led to a huge increase in orphans.
A UNICEF report estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa alone there will be more than 20 million by 2010.
Cash-strapped governments on the world’s poorest continent are overwhelmed. They can afford only a handful of government run agencies. Despite an increase in foreign adoptions, some well-publicised like those of Madonna and Angelina Jolie, who has adopted from Ethiopia and Cambodia, only a tiny fraction of these children find new homes overseas.
Organisations like UNICEF and the UK’s Save the Children Fund are opposed to foreign adoptions, advocating instead that the children be placed in extended families or locally adopted so they grow up within his or her own cultural identity.
They encourage would be parents to send money instead to help look after the children in the country of origin. But they are often accused of a head in the sand approach to the abuse the child may face and ignore the fact that by so doing they often condemn the child to a life of grinding poverty and no education.
“Adoption is sad, very sad but the whole issue is sad, a life of neglect, and abandonment, grinding poverty and abuse is sad, adoption is often the lesser evil especially as the people who come here are good and very carefully checked,” added Sister Luthgarder who finds at least one new born baby a week on her doorstep.
This point was made by Malawi’s president Bingu wa Mutharika with disarming frankness earlier this week. “I wish someone had come and taken 10,000 Malawian children because then I would know that 10,000 Malawians would have better education and opportunities,” he told The Times.