When the average person thinks about adoption, they think about all the orphans in the world. But a surprising number of adoptions involve living biological parents and international adoptive parents. In “Mercy Mercy: A Portrait of a True Adoption,” filmmakers follow as loving Ethiopian parents give their children to a couple from Denmark.
When Sinkenesh and Hussen were diagnosed with HIV and told they’d live for a maximum of five years, they made the difficult decision to give their two youngest children up for adoption. Excited couple Henriette and Gert travel from Denmark to Ethiopia to collect the children and bring them home. While the African couple wishes to secure a better life for their kids, they also hope for some financial compensation. Meanwhile, the Danish couple is realizing their dream of becoming parents, though it’s not everything they expected.
This is a tragic story that is difficult to watch without becoming emotionally involved in the narrative. There are so many broken promises that combine to cause so much pain over the four years chronicled in the film. The Danish couple and adoption agency promise to stay connected and provide the birth parents updates, but they are forced to jump through ridiculous hoops to gain even the least amount of information. The pop-up adoption agency appears ready to say anything to convince Sinkenesh and Hussen to sign over their children.
Three thousand miles away, the Danish couple also prove unprepared for raising children who already have parents. When the kids don’t immediately meet Henriette and Gert’s unrealistic expectations, their patience and understanding quickly grow thin. Henriette is increasingly frustrated by the older child, Masho’s, inability to bond with her new parents. Even more appalling is the way they deal with Masho’s behaviour, which is clearly a consequence of uprooting her from her home.
Director Katrine Riis Kjaer stands back and allows the camera to speak for her, capturing all the wrongs perpetrated by everyone involved. The opinion that a better life is achieved with just money and a change of location is put to the test in this scenario where the well-being of the children is not as high a priority as everyone claimed.
“Mercy Mercy: A Portrait of a True Adoption” is screening as part of The Globe and Mail – Foreign Dispatches series at Toronto’s Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on July 17th. The evening’s special guest is Africa correspondent Geoffrey York.