Three Ethiopian children get New Zealand adoption but fourth misses out

An Ethiopian-born New Zealand citizen can adopt three of her missing sisters children, but the decision will separate them from their older sibling, the Court of Appeal says.
The adoption process started three years ago and the oldest child is now 20 too old for adoption.

But her brother, 17, and two sisters, aged 15 and 19, can be adopted, the court has said.

The family cannot be identified for legal reasons.

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The court said separating the siblings gave it the greatest pause in reaching its decision.

It suggested the Attorney-General, who was respondent to the appeal, may wish to draw this unfortunate result to the attention of the Minister of Immigration, who could give the oldest sister a visa, so she could come to New Zealand too. She could have been adopted but for the time taken to resolve the case.

After the Court of Appeal hearing all the children were interviewed and asked if the three younger ones should still come to New Zealand even if the older one could not. All four agreed it was better that the younger ones were in New Zealand, even if it meant splitting the family.

Their Ethiopian aunt agreed.

Nariman El-Mofty/AP
A Tigrayan woman who fled conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region, is now at a refugee camp in eastern Sudan. (File photo)

The childrens parents have not been heard from since 2013. Another sister has been caring for them and her own child in a single room with only remittances from New Zealand as support.

The childrens materially deprived circumstances, barely more than survival level, were complicated by Covid-19 and unrest in the area where they live, the court said.

A report on them painted a grim picture of their living conditions and prospects.

One was kidnapped in July 2020 and only released when his aunt in New Zealand paid a ransom. The kidnapping increased the familys worry about venturing out of the compound where they live.

Because they had no legal guardian they could not access the public education or health services.

Adoption by their aunt in Wellington was in their best interests, the court decided.

She and her former husband adopted five children from his extended family, but the marriage did not last and the children and her former husband now live in Australia.

She has a new husband and two small children of her own. The couple both work as cleaners.

She has kept in touch with her nieces and nephew with WhatsApp calls, and they saw her as their only chance to get an education and a job. It would give them a chance to repay both their aunts for their support.

They would have significant challenges and only the youngest was probably able to attend a mainstream school, the court said.

The transition to New Zealand would be difficult but they would be able to maintain family links and cultural identity.

The aunts family currently live in a two-bedroom Kinga Ora property and hope to get a larger one when the children arrive.

Ethiopian News Agency
Ethiopian military near the border of the Tigray and Amhara regions of Ethiopia. (File photo)

The Court of Appeal said there was no dispute that the aunt was a fit and proper person to care for teh children and had the ability to bring up, maintain and educate them.

Previously, a High Court judge had refused the adoption orders, saying the woman was misguided about what was in the children's best interests, and that was the focus of the appeal.

The judge did not consider it was a cynical or calculated attempt to circumvent immigration laws.

Mulugeta Ayene/AP
Ethiopians wearing masks to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Addis Ababa. (File photo)

The children have a close and loving relationship with the aunt who has raised them and the Court of Appeal judges said they shared concerns about the children being separated from her, but their New Zealand aunt had met them several times and was in regular contact with them.

They were old enough to maintain contact independently, and may be able to return to visit family.

The children automatically became New Zealand citizens upon adoption.

Despite their lack of education they had hopes of careers, with one wanting to be a doctor, another a social worker and children's rights advocate, and the third wanting to work in art and design.


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