A Closer Examination of Family Group Decision Making in
context of poverty, the presence of support networks within extended
families has an enormous impact on an orphan’s wellbeing.38 In
Ethiopia, the practical role of the State in the care of orphans and
other vulnerable children is minimal.39 Similar to most African
countries, Ethiopia lacks a comprehensive government-operated child
protection system, and there are few forums in which children’s
rights are recognized.40 Thus, Ethiopia has a long tradition of
informal community-based organizations that operate at the local
level, offering socio-economic support to their members.41
With a population of around five million orphans, Ethiopia
accounts for one of the largest orphan populations in the world.42
During the past three decades, the “advent of urbanization, recurrent
drought, famine, and HIV/AIDS” has claimed a heavy toll on human
life in Ethiopia.43 The large number of parentless youth threatens a
drain on resources, loss of manpower and labor, and can lead to
exploitation.44 Moreover, it is estimated that 30 percent of Ethiopia’s
orphans have lost one or both parents due to the HIV/AIDS
epidemic.45 In addition to their material deprivations, these children
face stigma and discrimination due to their parent’s HIV status.46
38 Abebe, Ethiopian Childhoods, supra note 33; see also Abebe & Aase, supra note
4, at 2060 (describing the important role of extended family networks in “absorbing
orphans and helping them to cope with the distress of parental death”).
39 Abebe & Aase, supra note 4, at 2059.
40 Varnis, supra note 12, at 145; see also infra Section C (explaining the role of
civil society in Ethiopia and a recent law limiting the outreach capacities of
nongovernmental organizations engaged in child welfare services). Given the
“staggering numbers of orphans in Africa and Ethiopia,” and the lack of an
operational governmental framework, “the responsibility for the protection and care
of orphan children has fallen largely on private organizations.” Varnis, supra note
12, at 145-46.
41 THE INT’L CTR. FOR NOT-FOR-PROFIT LAW, NGO LAW MONITOR: ETHIOPIA
(2013) [hereinafter NGO LAW MONITOR],
42 Varnis, supra note 12, at 144.
43 IMPROVING CARE OPTIONS FOR CHILDREN IN ETHIOPIA, supra note 6, at 24.
44 Varnis, supra note 12, at 144.
45 Abebe & Aase, supra note 4, at 2058; UNICEF, AFRICA’S ORPHANED AND
VULNERABLE GENERATIONS: CHILDREN AFFECTED BY AIDS 1, 9 (2006),