Did you know that the continent, Africa, consists of 54 United Nations recognized countries, which doesn’t include the dependent territories or areas of special sovereignty? Lumping all the countries together under Africa is a bit misleading when it comes to adoption as each country has its own set of laws governing this process and some countries, like Ethiopia, have recently banned adoption altogether. While providing country-specific information will be too extensive for this article, I will guide you through the generalities to consider when adopting a child from Africa.
Hague Convention Impact
If you have started looking into international adoptions, you have probably heard about the Hague Convention. It convened in 1980 and was attended by countries all over the world. The intent of the agreement, which was signed by 100 countries, was to safeguard intercountry adoptions and ensure that the child’s best interests were given priority. Implementation of this meant an attempt to place the child with a family from his or her own country had to occur before matching the child with an international family. The agreement also theoretically streamlined and standardized the adoption process, though some would argue that the process guidelines have become so stringent, some countries are unable to adhere to them due to economic, political, or other reasons, which hampers the process. Another impact of the convention is transparency of fees, which means families will not be surprised or find themselves unable to pay.
While there are many countries that have signed this agreement, a lack of a signature doesn’t exclude you from being able to adopt from that country. It just means that the policies and process may be a bit different. By working with an experienced international adoption agency, adopting a child from Africa from a non-Hague agreeing county, will still be feasible and fulfilling once the process is complete.
The Process of International Adoptions
Once you have decided to adopt internationally, you must find an agency accredited by both the International Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME) and Hague to help you through the process. The IAAME is responsible for evaluating any adoption agency that wants to be accredited to guide people through international adoptions. The Hague accreditation refers to an agreement amongst 100 countries that provides guidelines as to how best to protect orphaned children through certain adoption processes deemed ethical. Even if you are adopting from a country that didn’t sign the Hague Agreement, you must still work with a Hague-accredited agency.
After doing your research to select an agency that is a good fit for you, you will submit paperwork that delves into nearly every aspect of your life from your marital status, employment, physical and mental health, relationships, and home safety to name a few. Once the paperwork is complete, a home study must take place during which a licensed professional will come into your home to evaluate whether a person or couple can be approved to adopt. Many people find home studies invasive, and perhaps they are. But the intent is to make sure the child is being placed in a home that will be a good fit for him or her and vice versa. The best interests of the child are the priority. In regards to international adoptions, you may have to work with two different agencies: one that is a child-placing agency and one that is the home study child-placing agency. Be sure to discuss this with your agency and do your homework on this issue as different countries abide by different rules in regards to who can do the home study.
Upon completion of your home study, you may be asked to obtain preapproval from the intended country you hope to adopt from. An I-600A form will be filled out for non-Hague approved countries, while an I-800A form is used for Hauge-approved countries. The report generated from the home study along with your preapproval forms will be sent to the United States and the country you plan to adopt from in order to confirm requirements from both countries have been met.
The next step to adopt a child from Africa is to be matched. This may be coordinated with your child-placing agency, the country’s adoption committee, or possibly during an in-country visit. Some countries require multiple visits to their country, and may even insist that you foster the child in their home country for a certain period of time before they can come to the United States. It is not unusual that the sending country will require that the child is eligible for adoption and is not a victim of child trafficking. While the whole process can take a long time, the health, safety, and best interests are at the heart of all these processes and paperwork. When everything is completed correctly, you will be able to rest assured that your energy can be put into building your new family.
Countries That Banned Adoption and Why
Despite there being 54 recognized countries in Africa, not all of them allow international adoptions. Since 2005, there has been a steady decline in intercountry adoptions of about 72%, which makes me question the fate of these millions of orphans. In 2018, Ethiopia passed a law that banned all intercountry adoptions, citing fraud and abuse of the adoption system. One of the infamous tragedies of the Ethiopian to United States adoption stories is of Hana Williams, a 13-year-old Ethiopian girl, who was found unconscious outside her Washington home. Her death was linked to hypothermia, but reports confirmed exposure to long-term starvation and physical abuse. Ethiopia was one of the top international sending countries to the United States and is home to about 4.3 million orphans. That being said, there are still many countries in Africa that welcome United States citizens to adopt such as Uganda, the Republic of the Congo, Ghana, and many others.
What to Consider When Adopting from Africa
I don’t know the statistics on how many United States citizens who adopt from Africa are adopting transculturally or transracially, but from my own observations from adoption support groups, I’d guess it’s the majority. Transcultural adoption means the parent or parents are adopting a child that may or may not be the same race but are coming from a different culture. It’s like when a first-generation person immigrates to the United States and still has the cultural upbringing of her home country, while a second, third, and so on generation person may feel quite disconnected from her heritage country. A child who has been born outside the United States will have been influenced by his birth country in some way, and the degree to which that is, is dependent upon the age he moves to the U.S. Independent of how old the child is when he is adopted, you should be mindful of his past and know that he may want to know more and perhaps retain some influences of his birth country. The best way to do this is to become familiar yourself with the birth country by visiting it, making connections with those people of origin who live in the U.S., and being open-minded to how your child wants to navigate these two cultures. It’s not right or fair for you to ask your child to deny her heritage and instead take this as an opportunity to learn about parts of the word you may not otherwise know.
Adopting a child from Africa may also mean that, in addition to adopting transculturally, you are also adopting transracially. There is a distinction between the two, and it’s important to understand what they mean. A transracial adoption means the parents are of a different race than the child they are adopting. In the case of a domestic adoption, the adoption would not be transcultural but would be transracial. Here in the United States, there has been a lot of racial tensions especially in regards to people of color and more specifically black people. If you are not black yourself, you must be willing to recognize this problem and be prepared to help your child deal with everything that comes along with raising and being a black person in the United States. From transracial adoptee stories, I hear how often the adoptive parents delude themselves into thinking that their black adopted child is going to be perceived in the world like them: a non-black person since he or she has been raised in a non-black household. Unfortunately, when your African child steps out into the world, even with you by her side, she will be seen as an African or an African American. The consequences of these impressions is real and should not be taken lightly. Here is a wonderful article that describes the experiences of someone who has lived through what I am describing. Listen to your child as she expresses her challenges and go into a transracial adoption with your eyes wide open. Don’t let such obstacles stop you from adopting a child from Africa as that child will learn and gain love from you, but that child will also help you see the world from another person’s eyes.
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