The adoption business – snatched from parents, sold as orphans
Interview with Dorrit Saietz
Dorrit Saietz is a well-known Danish reporter who writes for numerous Danish newspapers, including “Politiken”, one of Denmark’s leading daily newspapers.
She started her career more than 40 years ago as a freelance journalist. She toured mainly South America and wrote a variety of publications for Danish and Scandinavian magazines. Her repertoire ranges from political to social to economic issues, with a focus on climate change and the North-South divide in recent years.
The issue of adoptions was brought to her by a whistleblower who drew her attention to the case of “Amy Steen”. The young girl from Ethiopia, along with her sister, had been adopted by a Danish family and then, because the adoptive parents were no longer able to cope with her, was handed over to the authorities. This started an odyssey that made international headlines.
This case, which unfortunately is not an isolated case, eventually provided the basis for the book “The adoption business – snatched from parents, sold as orphans”.
Saietz, shocked by what was happening, went in search of the girl’s roots. She uncovered far more than just the sad story of a failed adoption, she took a look behind the scenes of an entire industry – the goods: children.
Spirit of Health Magazine: Tell us a little more about the case of Amy.
Dorrit Saietz: Usually you only hear good things about adoptions, how great they are and how much the adopted child is loved. But now to learn that there are adoptive parents who call the youth welfare office on their own and say “Take the child, we do not want to know anything about him”, I have never heard that. And here she was, alone. Here, the adoption should be their salvation, their rescue from poverty and their existence as an orphan.
Spirit of Health Magazine: How old was Amy when she was accepted by the family.
Dorrit Saietz: No. She was in the family for about one to one and a half years when she decided to give her up. This led to the question of why a child at this age had even been adopted. Children of this age already have a strong memory. She knew she had a living mother, a family. So what did a girl like that in Denmark do to a family she did not want in the end?
Spirit of Health Magazine: So she was not an orphan at all?
Dorrit Saietz: Exactly. She has a mother who lives, and an older sister, whom she painfully missed. This led to conflicts in her adoptive family because she was not able to cope there. Should children who are released for adoption not be orphans? This was not the case because Amy has siblings, a mother, a family.
The adoptive family had even met their mother in Addis Ababa when they came to pick up Amy. So you were well aware of that.
When Amy came to foster care in Denmark, I decided to fly to Ethiopia to meet Amy’s mother. It is usually very difficult to find the parents of a child who has been adopted from abroad, as the adoption is often anonymous, but I was amazed how easy it was in this case. Amy had a few photos of her family, and on the back of one of those photos was her mother’s phone number. All I had to do was ask a local journalist to call her and ask her if I could meet her, that I was a friend of her daughter in Denmark. Amy’s mother was overjoyed and asked me to bring her news from her two children. Amy had been transferred to the same family with her little sister.
Spirit of Health Magazine: How old was the sister? Did the family keep this girl?
Dorrit Saietz: The sister was only two years old at the time of adoption, so a toddler, which turned out to be much easier for the adoptive parents. The older child was too difficult, so it was obvious to hand over the big one and keep the little one. The biggest problem was that the adoptive parents, after they got rid of Amy, did not allow the siblings to see each other.
Spirit of Health Magazine: So the adoptive parents prevented contact between the two sisters?
Dorrit Saietz: At first they were allowed to see each other, but then the adoptive parents kept asking new demands regarding the framework conditions, how and when this had to happen. The intervals of the meetings became bigger and bigger until they were not allowed to meet again. Bear in mind that the sister is Amy’s only biological relative in a foreign country. Her only reference to her homeland. In addition, Amy was always very close to her sister. Suddenly, she was not allowed to see these eight or nine months, then occasionally yes, then the contact was arbitrarily stopped again.
Spirit of Health Magazine: So this was your entry into the whole Adoption topic. What made you write a book about it?
Dorrit Saietz: When I finally drove off and met Amy’s mother, a world opened up for me, marked by corruption, deceit, and fraud. I saw how unethical Ethiopian adoption agencies worked, and I processed these findings in a series of investigative articles published in Danish newspapers. These in turn started a discussion around the topic of foreign adoptions.
At the same time, there was a documentary called “Mercy Mercy”, which became known far beyond the Danish borders, and which also involved the failed adoption of two Ethiopian toddlers by a Danish couple. It turned out that these children were cases from the same adoption agency and the same orphanage. So exactly the same people were involved in Amy’s case.
This, in turn, provided the necessary impetus to set in motion a reform of the Danish adoption regime. This reform has done a lot, but in my opinion, it did not go far enough in some areas.
After two or three years writing and debating this topic, I decided to write a book on the whole story because of its relevance.
Spirit of Health Magazine: What most people do not know, in many countries, the concept of “adoption” does not exist at all.
Dorrit Saietz: Yes, exactly. In Ethiopia, for example, adoptive parents are part of the family. It is common practice to leave your children with family members or neighbors when you have to leave for a short or long time due to work or other reasons. They take care of the children, so to speak, but the parents remain the parents. The agencies also promise parents that they receive information about the well-being of their children every year, which is often not the case.
For example, Amy’s mother just had her nephew with her when I met her. She had taken him in. So if a family agrees to an adoption abroad, it’s like an extension of the family to them. It is not seen as a finality, it is not a task of one’s own rights, but it is for them as if they had gained a brother or a sister, who now take care of the children and give them a supposedly better life. A temporary situation. Our understanding of adoption, on the other hand, is quite different.
There are the so-called “strong adoption” and the “weak” adoption. In the Western world, we practice the strong adoption, in which a complete separation from the biological parents is carried out and all rights are transferred to the adoptive parents. The biological parents are thus no longer the legitimate parents of the child. In the poorer countries of origin of children, on the other hand, the “weak” adoption is more common, where all information is openly accessible and the biological parents remain legally the parents of the child. Ethiopian adoptions are always weak adoptions, which means that parents remain the legitimate parents in the case of adoption, that the adoptive parents have only a certain degree of decision-making power and take the children into their care. However, once the children leave their homes, all connections are cut off and the initial “weak” adoption is turned into a “strong” adoption. The Ethiopian parents do not know that this will happen.
Spirit of Health Magazine: What is the situation in Ethiopia in particular?
Dorrit Saietz: My research, but also the numerous other journalists, have shown that Ethiopia is the harvesting field of the adoption industry. New agencies poured into the country, dozens of foreign agencies became established, agents were used to visiting the villages to look for children for the adoption market. German, Danish, Nordic and European agencies claiming to act on a better ethical basis than, say, the Christian American agencies have taken advantage of this situation, albeit more discreetly.
The question is: when is an adoption ethical at all?
According to international guidelines, adoption should be the last resort. Is the child really orphaned? Are all local possibilities exhausted? Can nobody take care of the child there? Is a domestic adoption possible? What about local institutions, such as SOS Children’s Villages, which offer a family-like structure? It’s not that all orphanages have a bad life. When are all possibilities that the child can stay in his own home, environment, and culture exhausted?
If you take that as a criterion, then I think many adoptions are unethical. Now, talking about fraud and deception, I would say that this concerns a large number of adoptions from Ethiopia. It is difficult to name numbers because the system does not allow for exams. The adoption dossiers are private, they are closed and the Danish authorities have not been able to really dig in to understand what’s going on in Ethiopia.
So there was the only talk of a reform of the adoption matters. Better control mechanisms should be put in place, but in a short time, all adoptions from Ethiopia have been stopped. This means that no children will be adopted from Ethiopia to Denmark. This seems to be a concession that things were not going right. Several other countries were also affected and the adoption was more critical. For example, after about sixty children from Nigeria had been adopted to Denmark, and there were irregularities in the papers, adoptions from Nigeria were also stopped. I do not think that all this would have happened had there not been a critical discussion of this topic in the media.
Unfortunately, I found out that the fraudulent orphanages continued to work with European agencies, such as “Parents for Africa” in Germany. I called and asked if they were aware that the orphanage was being criticized and the Danish authorities had, therefore, stopped adopting the orphanage. They told me that they had heard of it but did not believe it was true because the adoptions they had handled were all right. This clearly shows that even in a situation where all alarm bells should ring, the trade simply continues.
Spirit of Health Magazine: Is Adoption a Lucrative Business?
Dorrit Saietz: Certainly it is a good profit for some orphanage managers in the countries of origin of the children, but this industry also offers many people a job in this country … on the waiting list are numerous parents who have paid a lot of money and are impatiently waiting for their child. The demand for children is very large. Arun Dohle wrote a very good report for “Wereldkinderen” in 2009, which ensured that Wereldkinderen internally reformed it. However, they did not warn the rest of the adoption community what they should have done, as they are all in the European Association of Adoption Agencies. But this did not happen.
Spirit of Health Magazine: I only know the book by Roelie Post “Romania – For Export Only“, which deals with adoption. There is hardly any literature on this topic, right?
Dorrit Saietz: Yes, there are many good books by American authors, such as Kathryn Joyce’s “The Child Catchers,” which focuses on the Christian adoption movement. However, problems with Ethiopia also come up here. Another author is Erin Siegal, who wrote about adoptions in Guatemala. The focus of all these books, however, is mainly on America.
Spirit of Health Magazine: In America, adoptions are often religious. What are the reasons for adoptions in this country?
Dorrit Saietz: I think our religion is a kind of misunderstood humanitarian mission. We want to be good, we want to help and do good. We want to help children and that is a strong driving force. And so we decide to close our eyes to the criminal underworld. Finally, these poor children vegetate in orphanages, we rescue them and we close them in our loving arms. That’s what really goes wrong when talking about a ten-year-old girl who loves his mother and siblings, and who could have helped so easily to stay with her family.
Spirit of Health Magazine: What can be done differently? Is it better to do without adoptions altogether? As someone who has extensively researched this topic, what would your recommendations be?
Dorrit Saietz: After all that I’ve found out about adoptions, I think adoption could be a good thing if it were done without all the money. However, this will not happen. And as long as this is not the case, I would say that there are a thousand better ways to help children in the third world. There are so many possibilities that make more sense than starting this profit machine and this inequality. Because what happens here is that white privileged parents from strong economies get their children from the poorest people on earth, who are too weak to fight for their rights and too ignorant to understand what’s happening to them.
If governments took over and the extreme situation in which a country could no longer provide for its own children … but which country are we talking about? Even the poorest of the poor countries in Africa can take care of their children. Recently, in the wake of the Ebola crisis, UNICEF’s reports praised local communities for managing the crisis and taking care of any orphaned child. No child was left behind. And that happened in such an emergency situation.
Spirit of Health Magazine: Did the Danish government provide funding when the case became known to Amy?
Dorrit Saietz: There is no fund or compensation for girls like Amy, who were wrongfully adopted. There was no restoration of their rights.
Spirit of Health Magazine: Was there a large-scale investigation or processing of all adoption cases from the same orphanage?
Dorrit Saietz: No. Although a report was written about the orphanage after that only the adoptions from this orphanage were stopped. Nobody looked at the files and checked retrospectively all the completed cases of adoption individually for their correctness.
However, Amy’s case is not an isolated case and many cases are known around the world that forged adoption papers and orphaned children who had living parents. The chairman of the Danish Adoption Society himself adopted three children of the same mother, who according to their papers were orphaned, but whose mother is still alive.
Spirit of Health Magazine: Were there any families who contacted you after these scandals got to the Danish public through their work to find out if their own adopted children were also affected?
Dorrit Saietz: There were extremely few adoptive parents who took this opportunity to reflect on their situation. There may have been a handful of parents, but that was not the majority. There are many ways to contact Ethiopia’s family of origin, but few have done so. It is also not liked by the community of adoptive parents. On the contrary, the adoption community has a strong lobby that put pressure on the adoptions to continue. The original sound was that most adoptions completely o.k. and if you put too many obstacles in your way you would do more harm to the children than doing them good.
This is not true, of course, because the demand of potential parents is many times higher than the number of children earmarked for adoption.
Spirit of Health Magazine: What would you like to tell people who might be considering adopting a child?
Dorrit Saietz: I would advise anyone who considers adoption to think twice about it. They do not know where you might be involved. You do not know if you might become part of something we always want to see the good of, but where the dark takes place behind a curtain.
I can understand the strong desire for a child, the desire to give him all your love. But what if the price for that is the destruction of a family? What if this child was snatched from the arms of one’s mother? Could you really live with that?
Spirit of Health Magazine: Thank you for the interview!
The book by Dorit Saietz Buch will be published in early 2018 by Jim Humble Verlag
Dorrit Saietz takes a look behind the scenes of foreign adoptions in her book “The Adoption Store – Snatched from Parents, Sold As Orphans”. What reads like a thriller is a bitter reality for many children. The book will be published in the beginning of 2018 in German for the first time in the Jim Humble publishing house.
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