What’s in a Number?

When we decided to adopt siblings from Ethiopia, we knew that there was a good chance that the ages of the kids would not be accurate based on the experiences of others.  One of the reasons that children adopted from Ethiopia do not always have an accurate age is because most births occur at home in villages without any birth records.  The Ethiopian calendar is also different than ours, which compounds this problem of accurately pinpointing a date.  Sometimes records such as baptism certificates exist, but not always.  Another common reason for birthdates to be unknown is in cases of abandonment.  If a child is found abandoned, no birthdate is known.  Also, children who are malnourished are smaller in stature and weight, so it can be difficult to even guess an age, let alone assign a month as well as a year.  Another reason that ages are not accurate is of course that it is widely known that the younger a child is, the more likely they will be to find an adoptive family.  With this knowledge, there are some birth mothers, birth fathers, or birth grandparents who will lie about their child’s age when they relinquish them in order to raise their chances of adoption.    Even if they are given an accurate age, an individual within an orphanage may decide to lower the age in order to raise that child’s chances of adoption.  Given all of these reasons, we were very aware that the ages could be off and went into the adoption with our eyes wide open.  The farthest off we had heard of an age being was a little over a year at that time, so when we stated our age range in our referral request, we kept in mind that it could be off by as much as a year or so.

When we received our referral of Elijah and Sedaya, the paperwork stated that Elijah was four and Sedaya was three.  In their pictures, it was immediately obvious to us that Elijah was older than four.  For starters, I have never seen another four year old with six adult teeth!!!  It was harder to tell from Sedaya’s picture how old she was, but it seemed that she was at least a number of months older than what her paper age said.   Our daughter Eliana was on paper, the same age as Elijah, so we put his measurement up on the wall at our house and compared it to her height.  He was taller than her, but not by much, so we were unsure.

When we arrived in Ethiopia, it became apparent on the first day that Elijah was not four.  We estimated him, based on language, behaviour, and development to be the same age as two of our other kids, Gracelyn and Josiah, who at that time, were seven!  We had never heard of a child’s age being off by three years before, but he seemed about that age to us.  When my Amharic got to be good enough, I asked him how old he was and he replied “sebat”, which I knew meant 7.  We asked him how old Sedaya was and he told me that she was four.  That lined up with what we had been thinking too.  We thought that Sedaya seemed to be about the same age as Eliana, our four year old.

We were not upset that the kids were older than what we were told, but we were a bit surprised to realize that we now essentially had triplets and twins!!!

Once home, we stated their ages as seven and four, but on paper, they remained four and three.  While we felt okay about Sedaya’s age being off by just one year, we worried about Elijah’s legal age getting in the way of him reaching certain milestones such as getting a driver’s license, a job, and starting post secondary school at the same time as his peers, and more importantly, as his same-age siblings!  The age discrepancies were causing us problems when it came to soccer registration, swimming lessons, and other registered activities.  What I did to fix that is made up a birthdate that seemed plausible and used that for the kids for registration of those activities.  I reasoned that it may actually be their real birthdate, so it may not be a lie and their paper birthdates were lies for sure, so I felt okay about it in a moral sense.  There are things though that will require birth certificates to be shown and as the kids get older, that will become more and more of an issue.  We therefore, became determined to try to get proof of the ages of our children.

Their dentist was able to tell us that he felt that based on teeth, Elijah was between seven and eight and Sedaya was around four to five.  We put off doing the bone scans as they only give an 18 month window and are more accurate when the kids have been getting proper nutrition for at least one year.  As far as their heights go, both kids grew 6 inches within seven months of being home due to nutrition and were even more obviously not the ages they were legally.

We contacted the adoption agency that had facilitated the adoption and though they said they would look into it, many months went by without any response.  We were quite discouraged by this, but when Mark was in Ethiopia recently, he was able to obtain a baptism certificate for Elijah, proving his age to be eight currently.  Sedaya was apparently not baptized, so we are unable to provide proof of her true age.  As it turns out, Sedaya’s age is off by one year exactly and I think since she is a girl and she is the youngest, it will hopefully not be a big deal.  Elijah’s age is off by two years and we think it is important to try to have it legally changed.  I hear that it is quite a lengthy and involved process, but we feel that it will be something that is worth the effort.  I especially think that for his confidence, being able to get a driver’s license and job when others his age are is going to be very important.

Yes, an age is just a number, and quite frankly, I’d be pretty thrilled if someone would offer to take two years off my age (!), but the bottom line is that when our teenage son is sixteen but legally only fourteen, or nineteen but legally only seventeen, I think those two years will mean a lot to him.  I will keep you updated on our process to try to make the change legal.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Hollie on November 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Wow! That is amazing. I have thought obviously that the birthdates are not exact, but 2 years!! It is very interesting, and it will be very useful to understand the process of legally changing this. Thank you:)

    Phew….essentially twins and triplets….and you have time to blog!?!:) You put me to shame- I wonder how I am going to adjust to 3!

    Reply

  2. I’ve never thought about this aspect of adoption.I will be interested to read how this progresses and I understand your desires for Elijah. It would be very difficult to see your siblings who are the same age being able to do things that you can’t simply because the age on your birth certificate is incorrect.

    Blessings!
    Deborah

    Reply

  3. Posted by Karen on November 30, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    wow! hope you are able to change it legally! it does make a difference for him

    Reply

  4. I’m so glad you were able to get that document. So the difference isn’t quite as big as you thought then? (2yrs. not 3yrs.?) We’re hoping to get some kind of documents for our girls too (hoping!)… but documents or not, we will likely still try to make the changes legally. Two and three years off is worth changing.

    Reply

  5. Posted by willowdalewhimsy on November 30, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Sharla… we have more and more in common everyday! I may be asking to chat with you about this one day.
    All the best as you figure out what is best for your children.
    Ramona

    Reply

  6. Posted by Sandi on December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Hope it works out!!! We Adopted one “4” year old who is at least 2 years older and now our second “4” year old who appears to be at least 3 years older!

    Reply

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