Classifying children as “orphans” to facilitate adoption

In January 2008, Terri Hambruch embarked on a journey
to Ethiopia that looked like it was going to change her life. Twenty
months earlier, the woman from Golden, B.C., had adopted a six-year-old
girl named Dassie, whom the adoption agency said was an orphan.

During this trip she had to reconcile the notion that she might have to give back this new love of her life.

Dassie, with adoptive mom Terri Hambruch. Dassie, with adoptive mom Terri Hambruch. (Courtesy of family)

quandary stemmed from a conversation Hambruch had with Dassie who
asked, after she learned enough English, "Why did you adopt me?"

Terri told her she was an orphan and her parents were dead. "You
needed a mom and a dad, and we needed a daughter, so it was a good fit.

"And she said: 'No. My family's not dead.'"

That prompted Terri and her husband Chris to hire a researcher in
Addis Ababa to verify Dassie's claim. The child's mother was readily
found, which led to the 2008 journey where Terri discovered that
Dassie's mother had willingly relinquished the girl with the hope that
she would have a better life in Canada.

"It was a huge sense of relief," said Terri. "If she hadn't placed her for adoption, we were prepared to do a repatriation."

Still, Terri Hambruch was upset because she had wanted to adopt an
orphan. "I believe international adoption is the last option for a
child. If there is anything else that could be done to keep a child in
their country, in their home, then that's what you do."

It turns out the Hambruchs are not alone in receiving false
information about their Ethiopian adoption. Several Canadian families
say they have been misled by documentation they have received from the
Canadian Advocates For Adopting Children, based in Minnedosa, Man.

The families claim that CAFAC has informed them their child is an
orphan when the parents in fact exist. They also say that sometimes the
children's ages are wildly off and the health of these kids varies
greatly from what they have been told before travelling to Addis Ababa
to pick them up.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Do yourself a favor and skip the comments to the article. They are full of very ignorant statements about international adoption and were incredibly disturbing for me to read.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

4 thoughts

  1. I guess the 600 “successful” placements negates the concerns raised by the 3 “questionable” placements described in the story. Sigh.

  2. , Galbraith admitted that the agency attempts sometimes to spot-check and audit the information, but ultimately it is viewed as an insult to the government of Ethiopia to question the documentation too closely.
    This seems like one of the more frustrating aspects of the article– on one hand, there’s respect due to a sovereign nation, on the other, there are children being taken away from their families.
    The comments are indeed just horrible, especially in their lack of empathy for the children and families involved.

  3. Well, you did warn us.
    In the article itself, it is tragic that a child would go through all of that when they didn’t need to. A bit of hope though in the parent(s?) that appear to know what the right thing to do is.
    I sure wish we could change the way these things are perceived by adoptive parents. I’ve locked horns a few times with other APs and the reaction is usually explosive and permanent, regardless of how carefully I approach it. And I imagine that is exactly what their children will be dealing with in the the coming years.

  4. In this case, the child described was relinquished to an orphanage by one surviving birth parent. Therefore, she was already eligible for adoption. The fact that her mother was listed as deceased on her paperwork did not lead to her adoption – the relinquishment did.
    Which, in a way, makes it stranger that the birth family information was incorrect – what would be the point of altering it?

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