Americans adopting more African children
Orphans available and wars ending
Ian Gee, a lawyer from Idaho, talked with his newly adopted son, Obdiyeah, 5, as Lincoln, 13 months, also just adopted by Gee, slept on his arm last week in Monrovia, Liberia. The number of adoptions from Liberia greatly expanded after 2003, after the end of 14 years of civil war. (Globe Staff Photo / John Donnelly)
MONROVIA, Liberia -- American couples are adopting more African children, prompted by an increase in the number of orphans, the end of wars, and even by movie star Angelina Jolie's adoption of a baby girl in Ethiopia last year, according to analysts and agencies that help place the children.
Ethiopia and Liberia have become particularly popular for adoptive American parents because of the relatively simple regulations and because both nations allow US agencies to operate in their countries, facilitating the complicated process.
Last year, US immigration officials granted 623 visas for orphans from Ethiopia and Liberia, according to the State Department; this year, the figure is expected to grow substantially, perhaps by several hundred children, US consular officials predicted. The 2005 figure for the two countries is nearly 10 times what it was in 1995.
International adoptions began in substantial numbers in the aftermath of World War II, as US parents took in German and Japanese orphans. In 2005, China and Russia accounted for more than half of all international adoptions, followed by Guatemala, South Korea, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Ethiopia is seventh on last year's list, Liberia 12th, and Nigeria 17th. In all, 22,728 children received US visas last year, more than triple the number in 1990.
''We definitely see a spike in the number of adoptions from Africa," said Adam Pertman, executive director of Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a New York-based advocacy group that researches adoptions laws, policies, and practices.
Pertman attributed the increase to news reports on AIDS orphans and the realization by some African countries that ''they can't cope with their numbers of children . . . and some of it is star driven. After Angelina Jolie adopted a kid from Ethiopia, agencies got a spate of calls from parents wanting to know how to adopt a kid from Ethiopia."
Jolie, 30, adopted Zahara Marley, an AIDS orphan, last year; she had already adopted Maddox, a boy from Cambodia, who is now 4. She and movie star Brad Pitt, 42, are now staying in the southern African country of Namibia, where Jolie is expected to deliver their first biological baby any day now. They said they chose Namibia because they loved the natural environment, and because they hoped it would afford them some privacy.
While Americans have adopted Ethiopian children for years, the number of adoptions from Liberia greatly expanded after 2003, after the end of 14 years of civil war.
A year ago, Ian and Dena Gee of Garden Valley, Idaho, 40 miles north of Boise, decided to adopt children from Liberia. Last week, Ian Gee, and his sister, Colette Blair, picked up three Liberian children in Monrovia.
''We chose Liberia because it was an area of great need," Gee said at a seaside restaurant, as the oldest child, Obdiyeah, 5, sat quietly on his lap. Blair held Benitoe, 3, while Lincoln, just 13 months, was asleep in the arms of a worker for the adoption agency, Acres of Hope. Gee's wife couldn't make the trip because of illness.
He said they took in a foster child for three weeks last year, and that propelled them to adopt.
''You feel like you can make such a difference in a child's life," said Gee, 37, a real estate lawyer. ''And doing it in Liberia, there's also a chance that these children can come back here and make a difference in their homeland."
The couple, who have three biological children, ages 2, 7, and 9, also were attracted by the ease of Liberia's regulations. Instead of an average wait of two years to adopt in some countries, the average waiting period in Liberia is eight months. Their adopted children were from two destitute mothers, they learned before the trip. ''They all came in malnourished; their families had no resources to feed them," Gee said.
Patty Anglin, executive director of Angels of Hope in Liberia, which has helped organize about 120 adoptions of Liberian children by Americans in the last year, said she has ''people at my gate every day, asking about leaving babies. Just this afternoon, I'm taking in a boy whose father thought he had a witch in him, so he put his face in a fire."
Anglin, who with her husband has seven biological and nine adopted children, is building a 20,000-square-foot orphanage outside Monrovia; it will have a capacity of 200 orphans. Her current orphanage houses between 32 and 70 children, she said.
''For these children, adoption is lifesaving," she said. ''What I do is a small dent when you look at all the needy children here."
But social welfare officials in Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world, where illiteracy is estimated at 85 percent, have decided to review the country's adoption regulations in light of the upsurge of interest from Americans. ''Our concern is that the adoption is done the proper way," Vivian Cherue, deputy minister for social welfare, said in an interview. ''Social workers already do a case history, but we just want to make sure in every case all that is said about the children and the parents is true."
Both the government and the agency conduct a history of the birth parents and the child. Cherue said her biggest worry is that birth parents do not realize they are relinquishing all their rights to their child. ''Some of them don't understand adoption and that when you relinquish a child, it is no longer yours," she said.
Added Monrovia lawyer Lois Brutus: ''Many mothers think their child is going for a better life. They think the child will send back money. They don't think they are going away forever."
Liberian government social workers and a Liberian court representative interview a member of the birth family as well as people in the community who know the family to determine that the birth mother and father understand they are relinquishing their rights and do not expect to be compensated from the adoption.
When Gee and his sister left Liberia last week, they took the three adopted children -- plus two more who had been adopted by Minnesota families.
Over the next 24 hours, the two adults and five children flew to Minneapolis, where they turned over the two other children to their new families. A day later, they flew to Boise and the Gees' four-bedroom house.
''Well, their little bodies are adjusting pretty well," Gee said by telephone earlier this week. ''And my wife and I are adjusting, too. When you've doubled your family in an instant, you pinch yourself and go, 'We're not just baby-sitting three kids for someone else. These are ours.' "
They are setting new routines: dinner by 6 p.m., baths by 7, bedtime by 8:30. And Gee plans to trade in his Chevrolet Tahoe (which can seat eight), for something larger. ''There's a whole lot of life around here," he said. ''It's amazing."
John Donnelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org