Last week Liberia was declared free of Ebola, having for the first time since the epidemic began in late 2013 gone 42-days without an outbreak. This follows Guinea in December and Sierra Leone in November. Health officials are watching closely but are optimistic that this news heralds the end to this Ebola epidemic. This is not an end, however, to the suffering of those left behind, especially the children. What is happening with Ebola orphans 2 years after the epidemic began?
Ebola Epidemic by the Numbers
Numbers only tell part of any story, but the part they tell about the Ebola epidemic of Western Africa are stark.
- 28,637 people were infected by Ebola
- 11,315 died
- 23,000 children lost one or both parents or their primary caregivers
- Untold numbers face isolation and shunning from their community due to fear
What is Happening to the Ebola Orphans
First, many are being raised by their remaining parent. The almost 30,000 number you see floating around when Ebola orphans are being discussed includes children who lost only one parent. Their remaining parent is alive and doing their best to raise their children.
I wasn’t able to get reliable numbers on how many children lost both parents. According to UNICEF, however, of these Ebola orphans with no living parent, about 97% have been placed with family or community care. There appears to be little checking up on the children once placed due to lack of personnel and too many kids, so we don’t know how these orphans, especially those placed outside of family care, are being treated, but people are people and most people are caring and kind, so we can only hope that most of these kids have found a safe landing place and are healing.
Can You Adopt an Ebola Orphan?
Some children who lost both parents in the Ebola epidemic have not found homes. Some children that have found homes are not being treated with love and kindness. Some international aid workers and child welfare advocates believe that international adoption is never a good solution for children without parents in other countries. I am not one of them. I believe that international adoption is one option, not the first option, but a viable choice to provide homes for orphans throughout the world. However, I have my doubts in this case.
Ebola was a crisis whose impacts went far beyond the medical devastation and loss of life. The infrastructures of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were not robust before Ebola and are barely functioning now. The basics roles of government—social welfare, education, roads, etc. – are limping along. For example, schools are just beginning to open back up after having been closed for almost two years. The health care system in these West African countries has collapsed. Work on less urgent, but still necessary, governmental functions has not even begun.
International adoption requires a strong functioning government in order for adoptions to happen without abuse. This is not available in these West African countries. And even if it existed, processing international adoptions would take resources away from more important matters that would benefit all the children in the country, such as improving health care and opening schools.
The last thing any of us who care about international adoption want is another country where vast amounts of money pouring in via international adoptions pull children out of families that could raise them if given time and a little help along the way.
What Can You Do To Help Ebola Orphans
Ebola is fading from our news, but the suffering continues. The West African families that have taken in Ebola orphans need help to raise and educate these kids. Several organizations are providing this help and could use our donations.
- Save the Children-Ebola’s Children Relief Fund
You might enjoy this fascinating photo essay– ‘My Ebola’ that tells the story of 21 people – in their own words – whose lives have been affected by Ebola in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether international adoptions of Ebola orphans should be considered. Also, what organizations are doing good work with the Ebola orphans.
Other Creating a Family resources you will enjoy:
- International Adoption Ethics and the Orphan Care Movement
- Why are There so Many Regulations in International Adoption
- Slippery Slope of International Adoptions-Cultural Misunderstandings Abound
- Cultural Identity for International Adoptees- How Hard Should Parents Push
Add Your Comment
Dawn, thanks for doing an article on this. I bet it was difficult to do an article on this topic with so many government agencies trying to dissuade people from inquiring about the orphans of Ebola and other disasters.
The US State Department seems to always say that this country isn’t stable enough or the central adoption agency under Hague is quite transparent enough to allow American to adopt children from this country. Or the government has not recovered enough from These pet phrases sure to repeat a great deal when dealing with international adoption.
I wonder how these phrases and words help the orphans in these countries? I wonder how these words help the countries recover for disasters and find homes and families for all these orphans. Our agencies reports a 25% decrease in US domestic adoptions, but a 60% increase in childless couples searching for children to add to their families.
The Hague treaty sure does seem to be preventing a great deal of these American childless couples from realizing their dream of adding children to their family. I have to wonder if that was the intent of the Hague treaty or if that was one of those unintended consequences everyone talks about when the government enacts badly thought out legislation?
I also wonder if there is any way to modify UNICEF mission to allow for childless couples and orphans to become families and make the Hague treaty prevent corruptions without stopping all international adoption? Probably a pipe dream, but it’s sometime I wonder about.
Again, thanks Dawn for keeping this issue before the adoption community.