Madonna’s efforts to adopt two youngsters from Malawi have drawn the paparazzi. But she isn’t alone: Westerners are increasingly seeking to bring home children from Africa as traditional sources like China and Russia cut back on adoptions by foreigners.
The rising number of adoptions from Africa–particularly by Americans in Ethiopia–comes as the AIDS epidemic ravaging the continent leaves more orphans in impoverished countries and surviving relatives are unable to care for them.
Americans adopted 1,725 Ethiopian children in the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2008, about 70 percent of all U.S. adoptions from Africa, according to the U.S. State Department. The year before, 1,255 Ethiopian children were adopted by Americans.
Thomas DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, does not attribute the increase to a celebrity factor, but he says some high-profile adoptions by celebrities have raised awareness of the availability of orphans in Africa.
Many adoption agencies and child rights activists argue it is preferable for children to be taken care of by relatives or in their communities, with foreign adoptions allowed only as a last resort. Others say that isn’t always realistic.
Adoption experts say the rise in adoptions from Africa is due to developments in China, Russia, Guatemala and other longtime sources of orphans that have reduced the number of foreign adoptions. As a result, the number of foreign children adopted by Americans fell 12 percent last year, reaching the lowest level since 1999.
According to the State Department, 2,399 visas were issued to African children adopted by Americans last year, out of 17,438 adoptions from abroad.
China, which for a decade was the leading source for international adoptions, accounted for the biggest decline and dropped out of the top spot last year. It was replaced by Guatemala, which almost certainly will lose that status in 2009 because of a corruption-related moratorium on new adoptions.
By comparison, only a handful of African children were adopted by Britons in 2007, the last year for which details are available. According to figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the largest numbers were from Ethiopia and Nigeria–seven children were adopted from Ethiopia and six from Nigeria.
But Africa was the second-most popular region for French adoptions in 2008, making up 29 percent of the 3,271 non-French children who were adopted, the French Foreign Ministry says, after the Caribbean and the Americas. The percentage was about the same the previous year.
Gail Gorfe, director of the Ethiopia office of U.S.-based Adoption Advocates International, said the number of adoptions in Africa has been increasing steadily each year.
“I think the exposure for Africa and adoption is growing,” she said. “I think it is much less about the celebrities.”
Chisale, the Malawian welfare official, said there has been a slight increase in interest in adopting children from his country, mainly among Malawi’s many international aid workers.