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Ethiopia Bans All Foreign Adoptions


Now, let's follow up on the end of adoptions from Ethiopia. Many Americans adopted children from that country not so long ago. One of them is in my extended family. But after an Ethiopian girl endured abuse at the hands of her adoptive American parents and later died, the country banned all foreigners from adopting. Critics say this new policy could mean more children on the streets, although in Ethiopia, it's a matter of national pride. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: I meet Nikki and Brad Huelsman at a hotel in Addis Ababa.

NIKKI HUELSMAN: What're you doing? What're you doing?

PERALTA: After five years of background checks, paperwork and waiting, they flew from Ohio to finally finish adopting Germa.

HUELSMAN: He wins people over with the beautiful eyes and little cheeks that I just want to kiss, right?

PERALTA: And now, they have him in their arms, a beautiful 3-year-old boy. But even with all that joy, Nikki Huelsman knows they will be one of the last American families to be able to adopt an Ethiopian child.

HUELSMAN: When you pack - start to pack those bags, you're so vulnerable and you're so open to being just devastated if it doesn't happen. It's losing - it would be a loss of a child.

PERALTA: In January, Ethiopia's Parliament banned foreign adoptions, saying they were concerned about the safety of their children. In 2011, for example, an adopted Ethiopian child in Seattle died after she was left outside in the cold. The Parliament also said they were worried, that Ethiopian children could suffer identity crises and psychological problems. The Huelsman's older daughter was also adopted from Ethiopia, and they favor stringent vetting. They also tried to teach their daughter about Ethiopian culture.

HUELSMAN: I want to believe that Ethiopia finds a way to support their kids and keep their kids in country but also becomes open to the fact that a family is a family, whether they're in the U.S. or they're in Dubai or they're in Nicaragua. They're - anywhere, a family is a family.

PERALTA: None of the private orphanages opposed to the new rules would talk to me on the record. One Catholic nun, who did not want to be named because she feared retaliation from the government, says she just hopes these children don't end up on the streets. I do visit one state-run orphanage just outside the capital. Welay Seha, the director, shows me around.

WELAY SEHA: This one is a library.

PERALTA: It's a sprawling compound nestled between towering pine trees. It's old but tidy. About 195 girls, aged 7 to 18, live here. Welay says they can take nearly 200 more. So they have the capacity and the money to take care of their children.

SEHA: Yeah, we have the capacity because this institution is under the government. There is no shortage of budget here.

(Speaking Amharic).

PERALTA: Welay walks me to a small building where the special needs children live. Their caretakers are in an office, and all of the children are just sitting there, watching television.

SEHA: (Speaking Amharic).

PERALTA: Ethiopia does not have a strong culture of adoption, so these kids will spend their whole lives here. The ones without special needs will stay until they're 18. I ask Welay if he's sure that these children are better off here than in a family home in the United States.

SEHA: We are sure enough because our country is growing.

PERALTA: It's growing.

SEHA: Yeah.

PERALTA: This change comes at a particularly nationalist time in Ethiopia. The country is having political problems, but it is also resurgent. There is an economic boom, and the country has begun asserting itself in geopolitical issues.

Abebayehu Fikadu, an administrator at another orphanage, says this policy has a lot to do with Ethiopian pride. Ethiopian children, he says, should be brought up here so they can help the country move forward.

ABEBAYEHU FIKADU: Even if we are poor, it's better to be with our society, with country. Feeling nationality is not replaced money, you know.

PERALTA: The Huelsmans the did make it to the U.S. Big sister is a little jealous, but Germa has learned to love the dogs and has even adjusted to the cold. Mom, Nikki, couldn't be happier.

HUELSMAN: Sometimes I look at him, even now, and think, I can't believe we're home. I can't believe this is all - he's here.

PERALTA: But it's a shame, they say, that some families will be denied this joy. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Addis Ababa.

(SOUNDBITE OF RENE AUBRY'S "LA GRANDE CASCADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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