Ethiopia is planning to shut down dozens of orphanages and withdraw accreditation from several foreign adoption agencies, in an effort to halt what critics say is a thriving baby business.
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This year, foreigners will take away about 5,000 Ethiopian orphans, often paying between $20,000 and $35,000 each for the privilege.
Half that number, nearly 2,500, will go to the United States. That is a ten-fold increase above the numbers just a few years ago.
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The rapid rise in Ethiopian adoptions has set off alarm bells among children's lobby groups. The U.S. State Department issued a statement this month expressing concern about reports of adoption-related fraud, malfeasance and abuse in Ethiopia.
The statement warns prospective adoptive parents to expect delays in the adoption process. It says additional information may be required to determine facts surrounding a child's relinquishment or abandonment and whether the child meets the definition of orphan, under U.S. Immigration law.
Embassy consular officials say nearly two years of data collection has enabled them to identify individuals and agencies involved in unusual adoption activities.
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Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform did a study of Ethiopia, this year, after detecting a pattern of troubles similar to those in Vietnam and Guatemala before they were closed to American adoptions. The PEAR study turned up evidence of unethical practices by adoption agencies and the use of coercive methods to persuade mothers to give up their babies.
Conditions in orphanages were found to be particularly severe. Some had no running water or sanitary facilities. Children are said to have suffered sexual abuse and beatings.
Ethiopian officials say their own studies confirm PEAR's findings. Mahadir Bitow, head of Ethiopia's Child Rights Promotion and Protection Director tells VOA one of the first priorities will be to close dozens of orphanages that appear to have sprung up to meet the demand for children.
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