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Media Release
22 November 2013

Children referred to Ethiopia adoption program and matched with Australian families

living in poverty after closure of the program


An investigation into the fates of children referred to the inter-country adoption program between Ethiopia and Australia at the time of its closure has revealed that many are now living in squalor, begging and have been separated from their siblings.

While eight children have been adopted into America, at least another eight of the children that could be tracked down remain in Ethiopia living under conditions of hardship. Others cannot be traced.

Dr Bronwyn McNamara, who along with her husband Scott, was involved in the Australia Ethiopia inter-country adoption program for nine years before its closure (and matched with two children at the time of the program’s closure), has moved to Ethiopia to work and has followed up firsthand what happened to children who had been referred to the program at the time of its closure, some of whom had been matched with prospective adoptive Australian parents.

“I have tried to follow up on the fates of as many children as I could find who were part of this program, and some of what I have seen is shocking and distressing. One group of four orphan siblings have been split up from each other – I have seen the two eldest girls (aged 13 and 12), with one dressed in dirty rags and living in potentially dangerous surroundings and the other suffering from scabies and in need of medical attention. I have tried three times to meet with an extended family member to determine the welfare of the boys, but as yet have been unable to,” Dr McNamara said.

“I am extremely concerned for all of these children and they are living in very vulnerable circumstances.
“Another brother and sister pair who were destined to come to Australia together have been split up with the eight year old boy being adopted into America, and his five year old sister back with her mother who is a beggar on the streets.
“What makes this so hard to bear is that these children had been referred to the program and a number of them had been matched with families in Australia who wanted them so much, and could have provided them with safe, loving and stable homes.”

To compound this, when the former government shut down the program, it did so on the incorrect basis that no children would be affected by the closure. Both the former and current governments have been provided with documents which prove that in fact there were referrals and matchings at the time the decision to close the program was made by the Australian Government.

Families affected by the former government’s decision are calling for the new government to urgently review the matter and reopen the program.
The office of the new Attorney-General has advised that the Attorney-General is reviewing the program and the circumstances of its closure. A response from his office is pending.

Contact: Marsha Jacobs John Connolly & Partners
(02) 9232 1033 or 0417 245 446


The inter-country adoption program between Ethiopia and Australia was closed on 28 June 2012 by Nicola Roxon. The program had been in place for 20 years and was responsible for the adoption of more than 660 Ethiopian children into Australia. After meeting with affected families in April 2013, in June 2013, then Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus advised that the Government would not be changing its position.
The Attorney General’s department has maintained since the closure of the program that “no children had been referred to the Program for intercountry adoption at that time”. Lawyers working for affected families have provided documents to the Attorney-General’s department which prove this statement is incorrect and that that at least ten Ethiopian children had been referred to the program, with at least 7 of those children being matched with Australian families at the time the Federal Government closed the Program. These documents also prove that statements made about reasons for the program’s closure are false.




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