The film challenges the West’s well-meaning attempt to help the third world through adoption. It exposes a global child and compassion industry, operating in the shadows.
The fate of two families cross paths on the African continent in Ethiopia, at a goat market where child-traders and western adopters gather. A Danish couple, HENRIETTE AND GERT, are to adopt 4 year old Masha, and her 2 year old brother, Roba, from their African parents, SINKENESH AND HUSSEN. Each family has their own motive for choosing adoption – The African parents wish to secure two of their children’s future with material wealth, as well as economic compensation.
For the Danish family, adopting is about fulfilling a long wanted dream of having children, as well as the notion of saving these children from their dying parents. Sinkenesh and Hussen wish to establish a long lasting contact to Henriette and Gert. But their hope of an extended family and economic compensation dissipates, as Gert and Henriette neither brought presents, nor lets the couple say farewell to their children at the airport. In the middle of it all we find a representative from the adoption agency, who neglects to enlighten either party of the others’ diverging expectations. Both families become stressed, grief-stricken and divided as a consequence, and not only they, but also the two children, who were supposed to be the object of the aid, are affected, and now flown out of the country.
The Director, Katrine W. Kjær, is with them on the entire journey. In Ethiopia, along with the two couples, she meets the harsh realities behind the latest decade’s adoption boom. In poverty stricken Ethiopia, the number of children adopted to the West, has multiplied rapidly in the last few years. Foreign adoption agencies pour into the country, private children’s homes pop up everywhere, and hopeful parents-to-be flock to in anticipation. There is a lot of money in adoption, you see.
In Africa, Sinkenesh and Hussen slowly come to the realization that they have been deceived. The adoption bureau DanAdopt has not kept its promises, and they neither get to remain in contact with their children, nor do they receive the promised help.
Back in Denmark the problems start unfurling for Masho, and for Gert and Henriette. The strong willed Masho is sucked into a detrimental process of treatments, psychologists, foster parents and doctors. In the end, the newly made parents, being under continuous growing pressure, must give up.’
Facts on adoption:
In Denmark, parents who wish to adopt, apply with their local governing body, who is responsible for collecting information about parents and the application process.
Next step is being put onto the waiting list at one of the private adoption agencies. In Denmark it is either DanAdopt or AC Børnehjælp. These agencies survive on fees from the adopting parents, who individually receive subsidy from the government. Both agencies operate in several countries, but Ethiopia solely has the largest yield, and therefore local offices with local employees have been instituted by the mother organizations. DENKAI and MAEZA, characters in the film, are both employed by DanAdopt.
Hence this is a rather complex system, constructed from elements of “social and family” and “law jurisdiction”.
Finally, it should be mentioned that international adoption, on a global scale, is regulated by the Hague Convention, which Denmark has acceded. Ethiopia though, is not part of the convention, giving us a number of responsibilities in securing that things proceed properly in Ethiopian cases.
There were 29,000 international adoptions in 2010 (a reduction from 45,000 in 2004).
Ethiopia gives up 4-5,000 children to adoption every year, 26,000 children the last five years, which is more than the sum of all the other African nations.
According to Unicef there are 132 million “orphaned children” in the world, whereof 5.2 million are Ethiopians.
However, Unicef writes: Of the more than 132 million children classified as orphans, only 13 million have lost both parents. Evidence clearly shows that the vast majority of orphans are living with a surviving parent, grandparent, or other family member. 95 percent of all orphans are over the age of five.
Hence the number of completely parentless children under the age of five are closer to 5% of the 13 millions, or 650,000 children whereof “the vast majority” are living with their grandparents or other family.
In the USA the number of international adoptions has increased with 400% from 1989 until today.
Timeline for the film:
Sinkenesh and Hussen drop off their children at Enat Alem Children’s home in Addis Ababa.
Gert and Henriette retrieve the children in Ethiopia.
Recording footage for the film in Ethiopia and Denmark.
I, the director, begin to film more intensively with the Danish parents in Holbæk, Denmark, where problems are escalating for the family. The parents have put in a request at the Holbæk Municipality, for a part time relief family for Masho. Holbæk Municipality denies my presence at the consequent meetings regarding Masho. I get permission to film several meetings with Gert and Henriette and Psychologist Sven Erik Hoffbech, who is paid by the Municipality. The Municipality grants a relief family for Masho every second weekend.
Late September 2010
Masho is placed full time in care of the relief family, per request of her adopted parents.
Late October 2010
Masho is moved to a full time foster family.
Henriette calls me and tells of Masho’s immediate removal from the foster family, per their request, to an institution. Apparently Masho attacked the foster family’s biological daughter.
Sinkenesh and Hussen go to Addis Ababa to contact Enat Alem Children’s home and DanAdopt, without luck. An emotional confrontation erupts outside DanAdopts quarters.
We record a conversation between Gert, Henriette, and the school head master at Masho’s institution. The head master backs Gert and Henriette’s theories about Masho being traumatized at an early age. (This scene is not in the final film).
Background on the film:
“Five years ago I met Henriette and Gert through research I was doing for another project. They were facing adoption, and showed me a photo of their prospective children, Masho and Roba, together with their biological parents, whom the adoption agency had explained, were dying of AIDS.
At this time I didn’t question that adoption was an act of goodwill. But the parents I saw on Gert and Henriette’s photograph, did not at all match my perception of poor Africans who give up their children to adoption. I made the decision that I was going to meet these parents, who had chosen to give up their children, before they died. So I travelled to Ethiopia, and discovered a much more complex and heartwrenching story, than I could have ever imagined…
I am NOT against adoption. But I want to show that there is a side to the industry, that prioritizes commercial interests over human interests. I wish for this film to become a portrait of the world’s inequality and absurdity. Furthermore I wish to challenge the western perception of how we aid the third world to better lives.
My best argument for the film is the empathy that explains the motives behind the actions of the characters. Sinkenesh and Hussen, and Henriette and Gert, all aim for compassion throughout, and they have fought for what they thought was best for their children. But they get lost along the way, led by a system that neglects its responsibilities. I have observed people who acted with the noblest of intentions, but all subsequently became wrapped up in an industry fueled by trauma. My intention was never to expose these people, but rather to understand their struggle.
I do not wish to create a journalistic, judgmental, and uncovering film, but rather an empathetic and reflective story. One where the viewer might not agree all the way, but is still able to understand the different characters’ motives in their decision making, and the terrible consequences thereof for an innocent child…
On the big screen Mercy Mercy will unfold a story we do not readily have access to – the consequences of a game where money controls mercy. It tells of the suffering of poverty, the consequences of not being prepared for human reality, and the ultimate suffering of those we were supposed to help – Masho and Roba” – Katrine W. Kjær – Director.
Director KATRINE W. KJÆR
Producer MIRIAM NØRGAARD, SARA STOCKMANN, VIBEKE WINDELØV Cinematographer HENRIK BOHN IPSEN DFF, MORTEN SCHULTZ, KATRINE KJÆR, NIELS THASTUM, LARS SKREE Editor MORTEN HØJBJERG Composer SUNE MARTIN Sound Design MICKE NYSTRöM Executive producer RONNIE FRIDTHJOF Produced by Fridthjof Film Production with the support of THE DANISH FILM INSTITUTE by Film Commissioners KLARA GRUNNING-HARRIS and MALENE FLINDT PEDERSEN, NORDISK FILM & TV FOND, Film Consultant KAROLINA LIDIN, with the support of the MEDIA PROGRAMME of the EUROPEAN UNION and GUCCI TRIBECA DOCUMENTARY FUND. Financed in collaboration with TV 2|DENMARK A/S, Editor LASSE BJERRE In co-production with HELSINKI-FILMI, Co-producer MIIA HAAVISTO Production support by ELINA KIVIHALME/ FINNISH FILM FOUNDATION and TIMO KORHONEN / AVEK, MINISTRY for FOREIGN AFFAIRS of FINLAND In association with YLE, JENNY WESTERGÅRD In co-production with VPRO, Commissioning Editor BARBARA TRUYEN In association with RTS, SRF, NRK, UR, YES DOCU, HRT, DR INTERNATIONAL SALES