Ethiopia is located in Eastern Africa1 and borders Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan. This country occupies a total area of 1,104,300 square kilometers and has a population of 85,237,338.2 Children fourteen years of age or younger account for 46.1% of the population,3 and 38.7% of the population is below the poverty line.4 People living with HIV/AIDS number 980,000; the rate of prevalence of HIV/AIDS among adults is 2.1%.5 Ethiopia has faced many challenges, including war, drought, poverty, and disease, all of which have contributed to Ethiopia’s orphan crisis.
In 2005, Ethiopia had the fourth largest orphan population in sub-Saharan Africa.6 More than five million children aged 17 or younger, more than 6% of the total population, were one-parent or double orphans.7 Approximately 2.4 million were maternal orphans, 3 million were paternal orphans, and more than 600,000 were double orphans.8 AIDS-related deaths accounted for 530,000 maternal orphans and 465,000 paternal orphans.9 Approximately 77,000 households were headed by children.10 Estimates based on numbers from a 2000 Ethiopia Demographic Health Survey suggest that “18% of all Ethiopian households are caring for at least one orphan.”11
A devastating drought in 1984-85 prompted the development of institutions as a means of accommodating the needs of Ethiopia’s vast number of suddenly orphaned or abandoned children.12 The Ethiopian government has since moved away from that approach and now discourages institutionalization as an intervention in the ongoing orphan crisis. NGOs and faith-based organizations continue to address the needs of orphans through institutionalization, however, and the development of such institutions outpaces the development of alternative means of care.13 As of 2008, 87 long-term child care institutions (orphanages) were home to 6,503 children.14
In 2009, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs revised and updated the country’s alternative care guidelines. The general objective of the guidelines is “to establish a regulatory instrument on childcare systems with a view to contribute towards improving the quality of care and service provided by governmental and nongovernmental organizations involved in childcare and advance the welfare of the orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) in the country.”15 To that end, the Ministry identifies the proper role of institutional care as being a short-term option and a last resort and seeks to promote community-based care, reunification and reintegration, foster care, and adoption.16
Caring for orphans has traditionally been a responsibility taken up by extended family members, but the government of Ethiopia did not officially recognize the practice of adoption until 1960.17 Two hindrances to domestic adoption are that the relevance of the practice is not clearly understood and that the process is perceived to be “cumbersome and intimidating.”18 According to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, “local adoption seems largely neglected or utterly out of the focus of attention of many adoption service provider organizations.”19 Intercountry adoption is another intervention used to address the orphan crisis. A study of 23 receiving states revealed that between the years 2003 and 2009, approximately 17,774 Ethiopian children were adopted by citizens of other countries.20
1 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (2010). Ethiopia. In The world factbook. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/et.html.
2 CIA, 2010. July 2010 estimate.
3 CIA, 2010. 2010 estimate.
4 CIA, 2010. FY 2005/2006 estimate.
5 CIA, 2010. 2007 estimates.
6 Tsegaye, S. (2008). Reversed roles and stressed souls: Child-headed households in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: The African Child Policy Forum. Retrieved from http://www.crin.org/docs/ACPFReport_headed_households.pdf. p. 20.
7 Family Health International (FHI). (2010, June). Improving care options for children in Ethiopia through understanding institutional child care and factors driving institutionalization. Retrieved from this file. p. 21.
8 Tsegaye, 2008, p. 20.
9 Tsegaye, 2008, p. 20.
10 FHI, 2010, p. 22.
11 FHI, 2010, p. 21.
12 FHI, 2010, p. 24. At that time, 106 institutions provided care for approximately 21,000 children (FHI, 2010, p.24). Beginning in 1986, the government attempted to deinstitutionalize many of the children through a reunification and reintegration program (FHI, 2010, p.25).
13 FHI, 2010, p. 44.
14 FHI, 2010, p. 24. This number does not include all child care institutions. “The study did not assess institutions for children whose permanent plan was intercountry adoption” (FHI, 2010, p. 24).
15 Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Ministry of Women’s Affairs. (2009, June). Alternative childcare guidelines on community-based childcare, reunification and reintegration program, foster care, adoption and institutional care service. Retrieved from http://www.itacaddis.org/italy/images/uploaded_pictures/Final%20Child%20Care%20Guidelines.pdf. p. 6.
16 Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 2009, pp. 14, 21, 28, 38.
17 FHI, 2010, p. 23.
18 FHI, 2010, p. 45.
19 Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 2009, p. 38.
20 Selman, P. (2010, December). African states of origin, 2003-2009: Number of children sent to 23 receiving states. Paper prepared for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Washington, DC. p. 2.