A Painful Struggle over Nigeria's Abandoned Children
The AIDS epidemic has contributed heavily to a growing crisis in sub-Saharan Africa: orphaned children. And though a UNICEF report in 2004 found that at least 43 million children in the region were parentless, adoption by outsiders is seldom considered an option.
Of only 40,000 inter-country adoptions each year, half of those children come to the United States -- and fewer than 1,000 come from Africa. A valid fear of trafficking is part of the reluctance, but even stronger are suspicions of cultural imperialism and disagreements over the meaning of family and kinship.
Eddy and Rebecca are two children caught in the cultural divide. The two were among the first taken in by the Children of Mary orphanage in Benue State, Nigeria. The orphanage is run by Sister Rosemary Oganyi, who started taking care of children many years ago after her husband and her own children died.
The dispute over Eddy and Rebecca involves Maisha Strozier, an American who came to work in Nigeria in 2000. Strozier was the deputy director of an international organization that helps communities in developing countries respond to the needs of children who have lost their parents. She visited Sister Rosemary's orphanage regularly and, with Rosemary's blessing, took Eddy and Rebecca to live with her in a first step toward formally adopting the children.
Strozier continued to take the children back to the orphanage for visits with Sister Rosemary. To them, Strozier became Mommy. Sister Rosemary was Ma-Ma. But as the process of adoption got under way, Sister Rosemary began to pull back, because she says the state government was interfering in the affairs of the orphanage.
In order to adopt the children, Strozier says that the orphanage's board of trustees made it clear that she would have to work with the social welfare agency in Benue State. Sister Rosemary objected, accusing Strozier of abducting the children. A court ruled that Strozier had temporary custody. Until the adoption is final, the United States will not grant visas to the children.
The dispute over the children has now gone on for more than three years. Eddy and Rebecca remain with Strozier, who has fought all the way up to Nigeria's General Assembly to get adoption laws eased to allow non-Nigerians to be able to adopt abandoned children. But in a country that has seen cases of children being trafficked as sex slaves or laborers, the assembly opted instead to tighten the laws.
Strozier took off a year from her job and took out a second mortgage on her home in the United States to try to complete the adoption, to no avail. She has found another assignment in Nigeria, but is in a limbo of sorts, cut off from American family who have yet to meet the children.
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