Masho and Roba: To Denmark with little love


“It’s almost five years ago that I began following the story of Masho and Roba. This was at a time when I believed adoption was a noble act for children in need of parents, and for parents in need of children. But what I witnessed was not the tale of joy and hope that I had imagined.”
“Det er nu snart fem år siden at jeg startede med at følge Masho og Robas historie. Det var den gang jeg troede at adoption udelukkende var en god gerning for børn der behøvede foreldre, og foreldre der behøvede børn. Men det jeg blev vidne til var ikke den historie full av glede og håb som jeg havde forestillet mig.”
— Katrine W. Kjær

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 |Part 6

Full episode (Danish, no subtitles)

End titles (not included in the subtitles)
“77 children were adopted from Ethiopia to Denmark the same year as Masho and Roba.”
“Of those, only 2 were classified as orphans.”
“Every year, about 30,000 children are adopted internationally.”

This Danish documentary from 2012 is heartbreaking, and it clearly demonstrates so many of the things that are wrong about adoption.

Childless, at age 44 and 46, after seven years of being unable to have children of their own, the Danish couple Gert and Henriette decide to adopt the siblings Roba and Masho, aged two and four, from Ethiopia.

The children’s natural parents Sinknesh and Hussen are still alive, but suffering from AIDS, and the mother Sinknesh has been told by her doctor that she will die “in exactly five years”, three years prior to the adoption. For this reason, and this reason alone, the couple decide, or rather allow themselves to be persuaded by the agency DanAdopt, to put their two youngest children up for adoption. Promises are made that they will receive periodic reports on their children’s progress and well-being.

Three years after the adoption, and six years after being told she had only five more years to live, Sinknesh and Hussen have received no information about Roba and Masho. They are both still alive and well enough that they’re capable of working and taking care of their three remaining children, and they still mourn the loss of their two youngest, of whom they have had no word since they were taken away. They try to confront DanAdopt and the Ethiopian authorities, but to no avail as they are stonewalled and rejected.

In Denmark, things are not going so well either. The adoptive parents are disappointed that Masho does not bond with them as they had expected. Mother Henriette punishes Masho for her “bad” behaviour by withholding affection, although it is precisely affection that she needs. They appear to make little or no effort to understand the needs of the children, but rather expect them to adapt to their new, alien surroundings without trouble, and then blame the children when this does not happen. Hardly ever after they return to Denmark do you see the adoptive parents smile, especially the mother who most of the time looks completely stone-faced.

I consider being past 40 as very late in life to have children, and especially to adopt children who have special needs because they are removed from their natural environment, old enough to already have a language and strong ties to their natural family, accustomed to their original local way of life, being ripped away from everything they know, including the love of their natural parents, and thrust into the custody of strangers who do not even speak a language they can understand. Of course they are afraid, in turn fear leads to anger, and anger leads to suffering. Being the oldest of the two, with deeper roots to her home, Masho struggles and suffers the most.

Henriette and Gert show clear signs of having no idea what they’ve let themselves in on. In their eyes, they’ve bought a product that doesn’t live up to their expectations, and which doesn’t come with any warranty. In short, they feel cheated!

At their age, it would be enough of a challenge to have their own biological child, although this would have been a whole lot easier to handle. Their own child would have been born into the family, and their bonding would happen naturally. However, having no previous experience whatsoever with raising children of their own, yet diving headlong into adopting not just one but two children as old as Masho and Roba, from a completely different culture, with no mutual language to communicate, no knowledge of their original home and customs, was a recipe for disaster because Gert and Henriette did not have even the most basic skills or knowledge to handle the situation.

It’s clear from the adoptive parents’ attitude that they had solid prior expectations as to how well this would go, as if according to a plan. When it doesn’t, they act disappointed as if it was Masho who had asked them to adopt her, and not lived up to her part of the deal. Masho, on the other hand, looks like a caged animal, marked by the futility of her situation, struggling with grief and missing her mother, the single most important person in her life, and the fact that she will probably never see her again.

“Do not worry about the children. They will forget you.
You will think about them, but they will not think about you.”
— DanAdopt

The organization Against Child Trafficking (ACT) are following Masho’s case, and working to have her reunited with her natural parents. You can follow their Facebook page Operation Masho—Reunite Masho with her Ethiopian family. You can also help support ACT by donating through their webpage.

“Det er nu snart fem år siden at jeg startede med at følge Masho og Robas historie. Det var den gang jeg troede at adoption udelukkende var en god gerning for børn der behøvede foreldre, og foreldre der behøvede børn. Men det jeg blev vidne til var ikke den historie full av glede og håb som jeg havde forestillet mig.”


18 thoughts on “Masho and Roba: To Denmark with little love

  1. I watched this documentary and it broke my heart. I don’t understand the reason the adoptive parents would send their own daughter away. The mother was angry over masho chewing in a way that annoyed her? That’s reason enough to put ur child in a institution? Makes me fucking sick. The adoptive parents are disgusting human beings.

  2. Pingback: Ethiopia | Adopto-Snark

    • I just found some information on ACT and apparently Masho is still in a home in Denmark. The case is pending before a Danish court.

  3. The reporter stayed with both parties, the biological parents and the children over many years. Why did he not inform the biological parents as soon as Masho said she wanted to return home? At that time also the parents wanted their children back! I think the story would have turned out well if the reporter intervened.

    • This is a very real and very serious ethical dilemma. Had they intervened, they might have helped Masho and Roba, and their biological parents, but they would have risked ruining their reputation as honest, objective reporters. Tough and heartless as it might seem, to help there and then would have been human, but unprofessional. Furthermore there would have been no real documentary to speak of.

      One goal with this movie is to raise awareness, not just for Masho and Roba, but also for other children that have been adopted and suffer under similar circumstances. Making a documentary like this one is not about creating happy endings (that’s Disney’s job), but to inform and educate people like you and me about the terrible things that are going on.

      Bjørnar — admin/editor

  4. It is clearly heartbreaking to watch Masho. She has never heard a kind word word from her “mother”, she has already started to shout at her in the hotel room in the beginning. The poor girl, I would gladly take her and raise her with my own two girls. Also I feel with the biological mother and her worries. It is really hard to believe. I really have no understanding whatsoever for the Danish couple, even though they really did not get the right kind of help….they still have no heart, the “mother” jardly ever took her in her arms, hugged her, felt for her… she human?????

  5. Was sind das für kranke Menschen die Kinder adoptieren und sie dann so behandeln. Es ist sicher nicht leicht zwei Kinder zu betreuen, wenn man keine Ahnung hat wie das geht. Was für eine grausame Frau die sich da Mutter nennt. Ein Kind aus ihre Umgebung zu reißen und kein Verständnis dafür zu haben das alles fremd für das Kind ist. Ich habe eine Frau gesehen, die mit Unterstützung ihres Mannes, einem kleinen Mädchen die Seele bricht. Wie grausam!!!

    • Sadly, this is the case with many if not most adoptions. Couples adopt children to satisfy their own desires, yet they tell themselves and everyone else that they “do it for the children”. It’s tragic enough that children are taken from their real parents, but the full tragedy blossoms when the adoptive parents realise that it doesn’t go as well as they had thought it would, that the children don’t bond effortlessly, and that they aren’t “getting their money’s worth” … and then they blame it on the children.

      Bjørnar — admin/editor

  6. Last night I saw the documentary… pictures prosecutes me..I am very sad….unbelievable…this egoism of the danish People….Anyone heard how these children are doing? What about Masho?
    A strong child…….I think she will survive the situation up to her 18th birth, but with hart aftereffects or implications being an adult…..

  7. Saw the documentary last night on German TV. Made me speachless. Unbelievable that this kind of adoption is/was legal in any country.
    How are the children today? Does Masho still live in a children’s home? How about Roba?

  8. This article expresses exactly what I felt watching the documentary.I really don’t understand how the danish institutions could allow first the adoption and,second, the separation oft the children.

  9. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much at anything on the television as I did when I saw the documentary last night. The adopted “mother” comparing Masho to a losing ticket was just too much to bear.
    I wish I could help the girl and her heartbroken parents.

  10. I am a biological mother of two children. Never in my life have I seen something more cruel. I wonder if ever anybody tested this Danish couple if they were fit for children with special needs. With needs I mean – extra portion of love, care, understanding and dedication. How on earth can I take the children of another mother to look after them and raise them and when they do not fit in my world I just throw them out and give them in an orphanage in a foreign country. This adoptive mother is such a incompetent, selfish and heartless person. Why did none of them ever thought of sending Masho home to her biological parents. I am against this interracial adoption when no parent is the color of the children. Since I am a mother of two half-African kids I know how much they tackle the subject identity, where do I come from, who has my skin-color? This Danish woman has clearly no idea of empathy and how to raise children. The worst is that not even the officials in Denmark said anything to help the children. And how can they say that it is good for her development when she grows up in an orphanage??? I would have withdrawn the custody for both children. Since I watched this documentary I think about it a lot. What Masho is doing, if she is ok, warm, a little bit better than with this Danish family, and if she can forgive her parents one day to reunite with them. Yes, Masho is still a little girl, being in an orphanage is horrible, but Masho is also a fighter. She is better off without her adoptive parents. I wish that one day Masho & her brother will receive the love that they deserve and that they will meet their siblings & real parents again.

  11. I just watched this on Netflix and am appaled! I myself cannot have biological children and we have thought about adoption, but I am well aware of the difficulties it brings and I know myself well enough to know that I probably would not have the strength to go through it. So we decided to remain childless. Raising a bio child is hard enough, so a situation like this is a 100 times harder. I feel like the danish “parents” just had a rosy idea of how it will be, did no research whatsoever and are delusional, pompous, emotionally handcapped and down right mean. My heart breaks for Masho and I hope, now that her adoption was cancelled, that she will be reunited with her mother. Adoption is not like picking out a puppy and teaching it tricks and I hope adoptive parents will be tested and checked thoroughly before these kinds of things happen again. Also I feel like a translator should be present for a long time in the beginning, don’t just ship off children to a strange country with strange people and a strange language. And psychologists should be there to work with both the children and new parents.

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