Ethiopia's government has suspended adoptions, leaving dozens of foreign parents unable to unite with orphans they have legally adopted, according to officials from four western embassies whose citizens are concerned.
The measure has also frozen hundreds of pending applications for inter-country adoptions, blindsiding families who have in some cases waited years and spent thousands of dollars to adopt a child from the Horn of Africa nation.
A spokesman for Ethiopia's Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs declined to comment on the suspension, which diplomats said came into effect on April 21 without warning.
"We haven't been explained what the reasons are behind (the ban), and what the intentions are," Spanish ambassador Borja Montesino told AFP.
Ethiopia is a popular destination for families interested in inter-country adoption.
Spanish families took in 1,200 Ethiopian children in 2010 and 2011, which even led to a brief backlog when the embassy had to halt applications for a while, Montesino said.
American families have adopted more than 5,500 Ethiopian children since 2011, according to the United States embassy.
Adopting a child can involve months, if not years, of vetting by adoption agencies, courts, and embassies, along with thousands of dollars in fees and travel costs.
'We're legal parents'
American Jon Oren and his wife are among those who had already been made legal parents of an Ethiopian child who they are now unable to take home.
The couple had been waiting for the required permission to take their new three-year-old son out of the country when the suspension took effect.
"Now that we're legal parents, documented parents, I'm effectively responsible for his wellbeing," Oren told AFP.
"I kind of can't just undo what I feel are my desires and even legal obligations as a father."
About 40 other American parents are in a similar situation, according to a US embassy statement to AFP, and more than 200 families who have only started the process to adopt have had their application put on hold.