Traditional Wisdom for Modern Problems


November 16 , 2019

While there are both pros and cons in the international adoption system, our ancestral ways like gudifecha – the local adoption system - can be the guiding wisdom in building a new structure to protect orphaned children, writes HANNA HAILEin View from Arada.


Al Jazeera recently released a documentary on their regular Witness programme of an Ethiopian girl who was adopted by a family residing in Denmark. The journey of her return was broadcast as she led the audience through the trauma she and her family experienced. Her older sister between falling tears remarks, “the broker told us the foreigners prefer younger children, which is why I stayed behind.”

The normalised manner in which this young woman spoke about deals being brokered to take her siblings is chilling. While children being snatched from their mothers' arms for middlemen to make profit is nothing short of outrageous, it is not a new phenomenon either.

The commoditisation of black bodies has always been the harsh truth of this world. From the first 19 black people to be forcibly sent to Jamestown, Virginia in the United States in 1619 as slaves, black bodies have been seen and used as a commodity. Today out of Africa, its citizens are still exploited through social, religious, economic and political factors, which uphold the sustained commodification of black bodies in its many forms.


Ethiopia has appeared in articles that offer cheap programmes to adopt children for many years and in advice columns that give hope to wishful parents. In 2012, American families took part in 7,000 international adoptions. Most of those children were born in China, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Countries like the United States are currently seeing an 81pc decline in international adoption, according to Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance. In an effort to boost international adoption, the United States policy on the matter has been to try and diplomatically restart adoptions from countries that are currently not open to international adoptions.


Ethiopia has closed its doors to hopeful parents from other parts of the world since January 2018. While there are advocates on all sides of the moral spectrum that have argued this subject through and through, the safety of children should be of the utmost importance.




Yet in some of the arguments the interest to "build" a family by the foreigners seems to be weighed more importantly than the children’s interests. To be able to produce for the demand of another family has fallen on the backs of the black and brown people of the world. And this, unfortunately in some instances, has also opened up to child trafficking schemes where children fall victim to the harsh and dark side of evil.

Lemn Sisay, an Ethiopian who ended up in the British Care System through falsified documents and pretences made on behalf of his mother by a British social worker, has often spoken aloud about the subject of adoption. Lemn was discarded by his adoptive parents and "returned" to the state where he would live the rest of his young life until he was 18 and not legally bound to stay. He was quoted by BBC as saying “having an African baby is often a sign to non-African adopters of their philanthropic, political, familial or religious credentials.”

African Child Policy Forum, an organisation based in Addis Abeba, stated, “The majority of so-called orphans adopted from Africa have at least one living parent and many children are trafficked or sold by their parents."


An adopted returnee once confided in me that her time in Ethiopia was used to search for her original family in Addis Abeba. This treacherous journey of many obstacles ended in my acquaintance finding her family. She finally was feeling a pinch of home, which was why she had come to live in Ethiopia. But it was an emotional and strenuous time till the investigator she had hired had found her birth family.

As she rejoiced, questions of why her mother had chosen to abandon her and keep the rest of her children at home swirled in her mind, while the children seeing their sister coming from abroad with success and comfort made them question why their mother chose to save only her.

The arguments around international adoption is more than an ethical dilemma. It is about an imperfect man-made system that should at the heart serve abandoned children, yet in this money-centred world, adoption has at times been found to put children in harm’s way.

While some adoptions have created happy and healthy families, a country like Ethiopia with rich tradition of caring for those vulnerable children can find a way to incorporate that tradition with modern living. It is the weakest among us all that represents the strength of our nation. Our ancestral ways like gudifecha– the local adoption system - can be the guiding wisdom in building a new structure to protect the children left in this world with no parents. To bring up children in Ethiopia has always been the work of the village, not only those who bare them.



PUBLISHED ON Nov 16,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1020]




Hanna Haile is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organizers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month. She can be reached at ([email protected]).






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