New Zealander fears adoption delays could see niece left behind in Ethiopia

New Zealander fears adoption delays could see niece left behind in Ethiopia
Photo credit: Getty Images

By Charlie Dreaver for RNZ

A New Zealander who has fought for years to adopt her nieces and nephews from Ethiopia is now facing the possibility that one will have to be left behind - unless there is government intervention.

Ms Norman* filed for adoption in 2017, so the four children, whose parents disappeared in 2013, could live with her in New Zealand.

In Ethiopia, the children are under the care of another aunt, with financial support from Norman.

The children all share a small room with their aunt and her 10-year-old daughter.

Once rent is paid, there is only money left for the most basic of food, with no money remaining for other necessities such as clothes.

However, after three and a half years of going through the Family Court, the High Court and finally the Court of Appeal, Norman can now proceed with the adoption of three of her nieces and nephews.

"We are satisfied that adoption by Ms Norman would provide the children with a permanent family life and we are satisfied that the adoption is in the best interests of these children," the Court of Appeal found.

But unfortunately during this time, one niece, Wendy* has since turned 20 - the cut off age for adoption.

The Court of Appeal found that it was no longer possible for an adoption order to be made for Wendy.

"Were it not for her age, we would have been prepared to make such an order."

In the court decision, it stated the only reason why the adoption was not possible was the significant amount of time it has taken for this matter to be finally determined by the New Zealand courts.

Barrister Ben Keith, who is representing the adoptive mother, said the judge suggested steps could be taken by relevant government ministers to keep the siblings together.

"The minister can as a matter of discretion allow a person to come as a resident," Keith said.

The region the children were in was "fragile" and there was a lot of risk to life and limb, he said.

COVID-19 has made the children's circumstances worse.

"The family's ability to earn an income had been badly undermined, they had some work and that work was no longer possible because of pandemic restrictions, also their access to schooling was never great, but cut off by COVID," Keith said.

The adoptive mother was hopeful that the relevant ministers would be able to organise a visa for Wendy.

"If not, she and the 20-year-old herself have said at least these three [children] have a chance, at least these three have the opportunity to get here to be safe and have the opportunities they have in New Zealand."

Keith said it was this aspect of the case, the adoptive mother, Court of Appeal and himself all found very hard.

A spokesperson for the Minister of Immigration's office said he had been made aware of the case and officials were now working to see what can be done to resolve the situation.

*Norman and Wendy are the names appointed by the courts and are fictitious.