We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Baby buying in Egypt

As I’ve written about before on this blog, and as people have discussed in comments, international adoption from Egypt doesn’t really happen. Not legally anyway. (Domestic adoption, at least in the western understanding, doesn’t exist either.)

But there are rumors of baby buying rings. And now it seems like some Americans are caught up in one such scenario.

This was first covered in the Egyptian press, and then Reuters picked it up, including in two good stories, one that focused more on the news and one that focused on one of the jailed couples.

According to Reuters, the couple from Durham, North Carolina, an American citizen and a green card holder with Egyptian citizenship, paid an orphanage $4,673 dollars for two infants and received forged papers listing them as the birth parents. They brought these papers to the US Embassy, to get (edited) some sort of official paperwork. The Embassy fished out the truth and turned the couple over to Egyptian authorities.

Apparently there are also two other couples who arrested around the same time, with similar charges.

The local news channel in Raleigh covered the couple’s first appearance in court on Saturday. This couples faces jail time of up to 15 years.

The real victims are the four children, now back in Egyptian orphanages. I wonder about their first moms. Did they sell these kids knowingly, thinking they’d have a better life as Americans?

A friend of mine here speculated that because so many things in Egypt, even legal processes, require a little baksheesh (a tip or bribe), perhaps this couple thought it was all legal.

But in case anyone is still wondering: you may not adopt (or buy) children from Egypt.

Edit on March 23: Please note that there are some very strongly worded comments on this post, some of which may come across as anti-Islamic. These are not my opinions, but I generally allow comments as long as the language is somewhat respectful. I’d be interested to hear folks’ responses to Mary’s comments.


17 March 2009 Posted by | adoption, in the news | 27 Comments

Adoption in Egypt

Some housekeeping: I know some people find their way to my blog because of an interest in adopting from Egypt. This is close to impossible, as far as I know. I added some information on this topic to my adoption page.

24 August 2008 Posted by | adoption | 30 Comments

Around the web

I have about three big posts brewing, but until I have time to finish them up, I did want to share some interesting things I’ve read over the past few days.

Michael Slackman of the New York Times has an article today about noise in Cairo. Don your ear mufflers, and read A City Where You Can’t Hear Yourself Scream.

A young Egyptian woman named Pakinam wrote a powerful blog entry on her decision to wear hijab: To Veil or Not to Veil.

Jae Ran at the great blog Harlow’s Monkey gives some great advice to parents on how we can be allies to our transracially adopted kids.

14 April 2008 Posted by | adoption, family, in the news, our life in egypt, parenting, race | Comments Off on Around the web

At the stroke of midnight

Today, while Mr. Four stayed home to catch up on some missed sleep from a very early morning with Bug, I took Bug and Giggle out for some swim and play time. Usually when we take a taxi, I sit in the back with the boys (car seats are not part of life here in Egypt, so the three of us fit easily). Today, I had so much stuff I decided to sit up front while the boys sat in the back. Perhaps this encouraged the taxi driver to be extra chatty (usually the conversation isn’t much more than a hello and how are you, if that).

He said, “Are they your children?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “But they are black.”
I said, “Yes, and they are my children.”
He said, “Is your husband black?”
I said, “No.”

He didn’t ask anything else. I’m sure that was all clear as mud to him, eh?

At the pool, I mentioned this story to my pal Cindy, who said someone here in Egypt, trying to understand her relationship with Maya, asked if Maya had been “born at the stroke of midnight.”

Who knew that pale skinned parents could have brown skinned children if they’re born at the right moment? Apparently, some Egyptians know this. I did not.

The other moral of this story is thank goodness for Maya’s family. We’d be lost in Egypt without them.

28 March 2008 Posted by | adoption, family, race | 8 Comments

Mixed messages on first family contact

My adoption agency has not given us any more information formally about post-adoption contact with birth families (or first families, the term we use with Bug and Giggle). However, a friend (the kind you only know online but really like anyway) talked to them and was told that post-adoption contact was suspended indefinitely. It wasn’t going to be a short-term thing.

Another woman with our agency reported getting caught in the middle of a visa nightmare. She has adopted her child through the Ethiopian court system (from abroad), but the US Embassy won’t issue an immigration visa because the child doesn’t qualify for orphan status (he or she has two living parents who apparently relinquished him or her). So the child and the adoptive mother, who have a legal relationship according to the Ethiopian courts, have never met… and it seems the US might not recognize this relationship ever. And it’s not clear what’s going to happen to this poor little kid caught in the middle of a big government mess.

So that seems like just the sort of horrifying situation we all imagined but hoped was only hypothetical. It is up to the agency to make sure that children whom they refer to families are eligible for US immigration, and so it’s no wonder the agency is reacting so seriously.

Yet, in the middle of all this, another adoptive family in Addis reported meeting their child’s first mother, a visit arranged by the agency in Ethiopia, who said that since none of the other agencies had stopped first family meetings, they wouldn’t either.

Are you confused? Me too. I’ll post any updates as I hear them.

(I should also add that I won’t be discussing any details of my kids’ first families out of respect for my kids’ privacy.)

13 February 2008 Posted by | adoption, ethiopia | Comments Off on Mixed messages on first family contact

No news, but a rumor

Jayme at the blog Ethical Adoptions wrote last week about some sightings in Addis:

…a large fleet of land cruisers carrying numerous adoption and Ethiopian Government officials was dispatched to the offices of a major adoption agency with the purpose of carefully combing through all information pertaining to the relinquishment of children for adoption.

A comment on the blog clarifies that the “fleet” visited a variety of agencies. Jayme speculates that this means that the issue at hand is really relinquishments and how they are handled. I don’t disagree.

Adoptive parents, meanwhile, continue speculating and dissecting the Consul’s letter. There’s not been any new information from the Consul or agency, so far as I know.

29 January 2008 Posted by | adoption, ethiopia | Comments Off on No news, but a rumor

Update from US Consul in Addis

After a day and a half of wild speculation and rumor-mongering on the part of adoptive parents (guilty!), CHSFS, our adoption agency, sent an update to families about the reasons behind cutting off contact between first families and adoptive families.

The issue seems to revolve around the definition of orphan, according to US Immigration laws, and how a legal orphan can have two living birth parents, which is possible, if the child has been abandoned, also defined by US law. The issues becomes particularly complicated if the birth parents who “abandoned” the child meet with the adoptive family, which demonstrates “ongoing parental interest in the child” (I’m quoting the Consul here).

Anyway, I’ll let the Consul speak for itself. Here’s the letter from the US Consul in Addis, as shared with us by CHSFS:

US Consulate Notice

TO: Adoption Agencies in Ethiopia

FROM: Consular Section Chief Paul Cantrell

RE: Ensuring that adoptive children qualify as orphans

The staff of our Consular Section appreciates your effort and cooperation in making inter-country adoptions possible for American citizen parents. I am writing to bring to your attention an issue that is of the greatest importance to successfully concluding inter-country adoptions for American parents. I want to make sure that you and your staff members are fully aware of the requirements that adoptive children truly qualify as orphans.

American citizens coming to Ethiopia to adopt children will in most cases come to the Embassy to apply for an IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visa for the child. In order for a child to qualify for either an IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visa, the child must qualify as an “orphan” as defined by section 101(b)(1)(F) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

As part of the inter-country adoption process, it is the responsibility of the consular officer to review the circumstances by which the child became available for adoption and to confirm that the child qualifies as an “orphan” as defined by section 101(b)(1)(F). This step in the process is accomplished when the consular officer approves the I-600 Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative and is confirmed through the officer’s completion of Form I-604, Request for and Report on Overseas Orphan Investigation.

If the child does not qualify as an “orphan” as defined in the INA, the officer cannot approve the I-600 petition and an immigrant visa for the child cannot be approved.

For this reason it is absolutely essential that all adoption agencies that are coordinating adoptions for American citizen parents be fully aware of the definition of “orphan” as stipulated in the INA. Agencies must be absolutely certain that a child qualifies as an “orphan” according to the INA before matching that child with American adoptive parents. If agencies are unsure whether a child qualifies as an “orphan” as defined by the INA, they should not assign that child to American adoptive parents until it can be confirmed that the child does qualify. A consular officer does not have the authority to approve an IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visa for an adopted child unless the child qualifies as an “orphan,” as defined by the INA. If agencies have questions about this concept or about an individual case, they are welcome to contact the Consular Section for assistance.

Agencies are urged to review the following information, which is provided as clarification of how a child may qualify as an “orphan” according to the INA.

According to U.S. immigration law, a child may qualify as an orphan because either:

(a) The child has no parents because of the death or disappearance, abandonment, or desertion by, or separation from or loss of both parents (9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-4 and 9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-5); or

(b) The child’s sole or surviving parent is incapable of providing proper care and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption (9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-4 and 9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-6).

Of particular interest here is (a): “the child has no parents.” U.S. immigration law recognizes six ways in which a child might lose his/her parents and qualify as an “orphan.” An orphan may have no parents due to any combination of the following six reasons: death, disappearance, abandonment, desertion, separation or loss.

Of these six reasons, the one that appears to cause the most confusion among adoptions in Ethiopia is “abandonment.” According to U.S. immigration law, “abandonment” means that the parents have willfully forsaken all parental rights, obligations, and claims to the child, as well as all control over and possession of the child, without intending to transfer, or without transferring, these rights to any specific person(s).

Abandonment must include not only the intention to surrender all parental rights, obligations, and claims to the child, and control over and possession of the child, but also the actual act of surrendering such rights, obligations, claims, control, and possession. A child who is placed temporarily in an orphanage should not be considered to be abandoned if the parents express an intention to retrieve the child, are contributing or attempting to contribute to the support of the child, or otherwise exhibit ongoing parental interest in the child.

Further, U.S. immigration law clarifies that a relinquishment or release by the parent(s) to the prospective adoptive parents or for a specific adoption does not constitute “abandonment.” Similarly, the relinquishment or release of the child by the parent to a third party for custodial care in anticipation of, or preparation for, adoption does not constitute “abandonment” unless the third party (such as a governmental agency, a court of competent jurisdiction, an adoption agency, or an orphanage) is authorized under the child welfare laws of the foreign-sending country to act in such a capacity. A child released to a government-authorized third party, however, could be considered to have been abandoned even if the parent(s) knew at the time that the child would probably be adopted by a specific person or persons, so long as the relinquishment was not contingent upon adoption by a specific person or persons.

I have emphasized the items above in italics to remind agencies that the Embassy cannot approve IR-3 and IR-4 immigrant visas for children adopted from intact families who have given up their children because of, or contingent upon, some expectation that:

the adoptive parents will provide some financial support to the natural parents
the adoptive parents will be willing to provide information about the child to the natural parents
the child will be of some benefits to the natural parents at some point in the future
Recently, some agencies have indicated that they routinely attempt to arrange meetings between adoptive parents and a child’s natural parents. While such meetings might provide certain advantages, agencies should be aware that meetings with the natural parents may in some cases be interpreted as evidence of the natural parents’ “ongoing parental interest in the child,” and as such may invite additional scrutiny by consular officers when reviewing the I-600 petition on behalf of such a child.

To avoid confusion and ensure that agencies are fully aware of all requirements of U.S. immigration law, consular officers will be arranging to meet individually with adoption agencies in the coming weeks. We are most interested in learning how agencies acquire the children who are matched with American adoptive parents and in helping agencies avoid matching any children who would not qualify as “orphans” according to the INA.

I appreciate your cooperation in the endeavor and invite your questions, comments, and suggestions about how we can work together to improve the integrity of the inter-country adoptions process.


Paul Cantrell

Consular Section Chief

U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa


Scott Driskel

Vice Consul

U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa

(For the record, my kids were both legal orphans.)

So the issue at hand seems not to be contact between families, but specifically contact between families if the first family has two living parents.

When we first started looking into adoption, less than three years ago, I was in la-la land. Ethiopia had a huge orphan crisis, with millions of kids without parents, and we wanted to raise a child. It seemed perfectly simple and simply perfect.

Of course, the reality of adoption is not pretty or simple or easy, for anyone.

25 January 2008 Posted by | adoption, ethiopia | 9 Comments

Major upheaval in Ethiopian adoption programs

The possibility of having on-going contact with children’s first families is a huge appeal of Ethiopian adoption programs, not just for us, but for many people. Sometimes this contact has led to problems, as when adoptive families have learned things from first families that conflict with the official paperwork (indeed, that happened with us). I have no idea if that’s what led to this recent change, but one of the big agencies, Children’s Home Society and Family Services, just released a statement with a major policy change:

Effective immediately, CHSFS is suspending any birth family meetings and all ongoing contact between adoptive and birth families (including Post Adoption Intermediary Services). This is in direct response to statements made recently by the US Embassy in Addis Ababa citing the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1989; regarding orphan status, irrevocable relinquishment and termination of birth family rights.

The statement goes on to say that, “this is seen as an issue between the Consular Section of the Department of State and any inter-country adoption program” and that CHSFS is sending people to Addis to deal with this immediately. I haven’t heard if other agencies are enacting similar policies.

This is particularly distressing because the change seems to be coming from the US Embassy in Ethiopia, who should be looking out for the best interests of Americans, including kids born in Ethiopia and adopted by Americans.

It’s hard for me to understand how this could possibly be in the best interest of our kids.

I’ll share more as I learn more.

24 January 2008 Posted by | adoption, ethiopia | 5 Comments

Questions from strangers

“Is that your son?”

“Is that your child?”

“Is that your baby? Really?”

“Where is your husband?”

“Is your husband from here?”

“Are those your kids?”

“Are they brothers?”

“Are you his mother?”

“Is your husband Egyptian?”

8 January 2008 Posted by | adoption, family, our life in egypt, race | 3 Comments

Dutch (mis)treat

The International Herald Tribune (which is published by the New York Times) says today that the Dutch family in the adoption disruption brouhaha is feeling “misrepresented” by media reports about their family.

The family apparently released a statement, which said, in part,

“In contrast to what has been written, we don’t want to be rid of our daughter and there’s no suggestion we would disown her, right up until today. We are (her) parents and we feel responsible for her well-being and we always will.”

I hope this is all true and details as reported in the media are wildly wrong. I suspect not, but I hope.

The family also said their daughter is very sick, and suffers from “a fear of emotional attachment.”

Here’s something that really didn’t make sense. I mentioned earlier that the parents never processed their daughter’s Dutch citizenship. The IHT quotes them as saying it was an “oversight.”

An oversight? I might believe it if they lived in the Netherlands or elsewhere in the EU where it’s relatively easy to cross national borders. But coming and going around the world is much easier with some consistency in passports. We did not want the kids to enter Egypt as Ethiopians and then possibly not have the protection of the US government. Maybe it’s different when you are a diplomat, but I would think they’d be even more inclined to make sure their passports were in order.

This whole situation is more than troubling. The IHT article ends with the family asking for privacy, which seems like a fair request, but it also seems too late for that.

Perhaps the best that can come out of this is that their daughter can get the care and treatment and parenting she needs, and other adoptive parents will reflect carefully on this and perhaps become better parents to their kids.

(Tip to Racialicious for linking to the blog Resist Racism, which blogged about this and linked to the IHT.) 

(Edited to fix formatting, which I think now should be set.)

14 December 2007 Posted by | adoption | 3 Comments