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Liberia is currently closed to adoptions by Canadians, following the moratorium on adoptions announced in May 2008. Liberia is open to adoptions by U.S. citizens.
The U.S. State Dept. noted that as of Feb. 2, 2005, the U.S. embassy in Monrovia has resumed processing orphan visas. The embassy had temporarily closed visa services due to a serious staffing shortage.
On Aug. 3, 2006 Lena Sin of The Province (Vancouver BC), in the article "B.C. family waiting for their daughter", told the story of the Gardiner family of British Columbia, who adopted an abandoned girl from an orphanage in Monrovia but Canadian officials refused to let her into Canada. The Canadian High Commission in Ghana (the nearest country to Liberia in which a visa can be issued) refused to issue the girl a visa because officials see "red flags" and the possibility of child-trafficking. Lorne Welwood of Hope Adoption Services in Abbotsford, B.C., said that since November he's tried to help half a dozen families adopt from Liberia, and all have had problems getting visas. "I've sent e-mails (to the high commission) about another case and they say, `don't call us, we'll call you, we don't know when we'll process it,"' he said. Author Lena Sin wrote, "The Canadian High Commission in Accra, Ghana, has one of the slowest visa-processing times of all the Canadian posts in Africa and the Middle East. It takes an average of 24 months to process 80 per cent of cases, compared with 12 months in Damascus, Syria, or 10 months in Tel Aviv, Israel."
In a travel warning dated March 30, 2006 the State Dept. urged American citizens to consider carefully the risks of travel to Liberia. Notwithstanding the UN's deployment of 15,000 peacekeepers and 1,100 police advisors nationwide, the overall security situation remains unpredictable, with an undercurrent of political and social tension and economic hardship that could result in sporadic violence and instability.
In its Aug. 25, 2006 warning, Canadian Foreign Affairs advised against non-essential travel to Liberia. The security situation is unpredictable. Mass movement of people aggravates the already poor economic conditions, especially in Monrovia and other cities, where refugees are putting a strain on food and shelter resources. Looting and robbery, often at gunpoint, is reported throughout the country.
The visa office in Accra, Ghana is very slow in approving visas, and processing times are getting worse. Citizenship and Immigration Canada statistics for August 2005 to September 2006 showed that the Accra visa office is the second slowest of all Canadian visa offices in the world in issuing permanent resident visas for dependent children, taking 21 months to finalize 80% of its cases. In follow-up statistics for the period April 2006-March 2007, CIC said the record at Accra became even worse: it took 38 months to finalize 80% of cases. It was again second slowest, the worst being Abidjan (45 months). (The average time to treat 80% of cases at all Canadian visa offices is 11 months.)
The Canadian High Commission in Accra, Ghana said on Aug. 22, 2006 that it has learned of serious concerns about trafficking of babies and young children in Liberia. A number of cases in the U.S. and at least one in Canada are now being investigated. According to UNICEF in Liberia, the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (responsible for accrediting adoption agencies and orphanages) has inadequate mechanisms for protecting orphans in Liberia. The High Commission warned that any concerns about a visa application for an adopted Liberian child would mean extra background checks. Since Canada has no diplomatic presence in Liberia and given conditions there, the High Commission estimated that these checks may take up to 12 months or more.
In the Nov. 2, 2006 article "Madonna's Adoption in Malawi May Lead Others To Africa" The New York Sun reported that Americans are increasingly interested in adopting from Ethiopia and Liberia. Agency director Cheryl Carter-Shotts said that stars like Angelina Jolie, who took home an Ethiopian daughter last year, are spurring the rise in African adoption. Her agency, Americans for African Adoption, charges adoption fees of $4,500 for children from Liberia and $7,500 from Ethiopia, not including travel, significantly less than other countries. The number of Liberian children adopted by Americans rose 94%, between fiscal years 2005 and 2006. In the 12 months ending in September, 353 children from Liberia were granted orphan visas, up from 182 the previous year, according to Statistics on International Adoptions to the U.S. from the U.S. State Department. Would-be parents are increasingly turning to African countries.
In its Feb. 16, 2007 travel warning the U.S. State Department urged Americans to get updated security information before they travel to Liberia and be prepared to change plans at short notice. Those in Liberia should use caution while there. The UN deployment of 15,000 peacekeepers and over 1,200 police advisors has kept the overall security situation peaceful but crime rates are still high. Foreigners are high-profile targets for robbery. Avoid political rallies or street demonstrations, which may turn violent.
Alberta Children's Services continues to post timely information on intercountry adoption on its What's New page. Its January 2007 post said the Canadian Embassy [i.e. High Commission] in Accra, Ghana (responsible for Liberia) advised Alberta of irregularities concerning Liberian adoptions (tampered passports, irregular court orders) organized by The West African Children Support Network (WASCN) in Liberia. The High Commission has placed those files on hold for investigation. Alberta knows of several families arranging private adoptions from Liberia. The High Commission has asked Alberta to advise them to delay their departure until it clears up the situation with WASCN. Its March 2007 post stated its concerns about insufficient safeguards in Liberia to get informed consent of the birth parents or to prevent trafficking in children. It advised of three points:
1. The High Commission may take 12 months or more to investigate an adoption, due to lack of reliable government and NGO controls and no Canadian visa office in Liberia, as explained in its Aug. 22, 2006 post.
In July 2007 Alberta Children and Youth Services gave the results of the Accra assessment. The Canadian High Commission in Accra had conducted a review of adoption in Liberia. It reported that although there had been serious concerns about child trafficking, in fact children have not been abducted, trafficked or sold, and informed parental consent has been received in cases where biological parents are still living. It found that there is no functioning legal framework in Liberia to ensure the legality of adoptions. "Given that Canada does not have any diplomatic presence in Liberia and the lack of reliable governmental and NGO controls, it may take up to 12 months or longer for the Canadian High Commission Accra to complete an investigation of an adoption."
In a Feb. 1, 2008 article, "Liberia investigates child adoptions by U.S. agency", Reuters said the Liberian government was investigating what it believed were irregularities in the way two groups flew seven Liberian children to the U.S. for adoption. They left before a 30-day period requested for checks by the Social Welfare Bureau was completed. The two private groups -- Texas-based Addy's Hope Adoption Agency and the Greater Love Children's Home in Liberia -- were not accredited or licensed in Liberia.
A March 17, 2008 notice from the U.S. State Department said that on March 14 the director of a U.S. adoption agency was prevented from escorting recently-adopted Liberian children from Liberia. The director was told that adopted children cannot leave Liberia with an escort unless their travel had been cleared by the Ministers of Justice and Gender, which is a new requirement. Liberia is reviewing adoption laws with the aim of strengthening the current system.
[Status in 2007] In June 2007 Family Helper summarized the situation in Liberia as follows: "Intercountry adoptions from Liberia are open for Canadians. They may find the process interrupted by lengthy visa approval in Ghana, as Canadian officials investigate dubious adoptions and spend much more time on background checks." The following year, adoptions closed for Canadians.
The Globe and Mail of April 15, 2008 reported, "Earlier this year, Ottawa alerted provincial adoption regulators about serious child-trafficking problems in Liberia - where Canadians have adopted 26 children since 2005. Three jurisdictions - Alberta, Newfoundland and Nunavut - responded by halting all adoptions from Liberia.
Canada-wide moratorium. Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs announced a moratorium on adoptions from Liberia because of its "concerns regarding the adoption process and the child protection framework in Liberia". All provincial adoption authorities agreed to implement the moratorium across the country, effective May 2008.
British Columbia announces moratorium. In its "Liberia Alert!" the Ministry of Children and Family Development cited the possibility of child trafficking in deciding that "Effective May 1, 2008 adoptions from Liberia will not be facilitated in British Columbia. Exceptions will be made for those applying to adopt relatives. ... Letters of no objection (LONOs) will not be issued by the Director of Adoption for Liberia".
In its July 25, 2008 advisory, the U.S. State Department observed a slowdown in Liberia in processing files for American adopters. The Ministries of Justice and Health and Social Welfare are taking extra time to review adoption cases, especially since some parents have returned their children after the adoption. In two recent cases adoptive parents brought their adopted Liberian children back to Liberia and abandoned them, or placed them in foster care.
In its country information dated July 2008, the U.S. State Department said Liberia is not a party to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, so that when the Convention entered into force in the U.S. on April 1, 2008, processing of Liberian adoptions was not then affected by Hague rules. However Parliament in Liberia is considering a revised adoption law, submitted in November 2007, which would provide more safeguards to protect children being adopted, birth parents and prospective adoptive parents. Pending revision of the law, prospective adoptive parents have experienced long delays in getting their files processed.
[Background, Sept. 4, 2008] CIA World Factbook states that democratic elections in late 2005 brought President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to power. The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) maintains 18,000 peacekeepers, but the security situation is still fragile. Rebuilding the social and economic structure of this war-torn country will take many years.
For resources on Liberian adoption, see Adoption Resource Central, Country-specific Resources - Liberia.
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Country News is written by Robin Hilborn,
Country News is written by Robin Hilborn,