Girl in Return: An Adopted Teenager’s Journey back to Ethiopia

Years after being adopted from Ethiopia to Denmark, a teenager reclaims her identity and fights the adoption system.

“The more time goes by, the more I realise what I’m losing. Or have lost … We’ve lost a lot of time together,” says an Ethiopian teenager of her family.

Tigist Anteneh was 10 years old when she was adopted from Ethiopia to Denmark and, along with her baby sister, left behind the only life she knew.

She was given a new name, Amy Rebecca Steen; her mother lost contact with her – despite promises from the agency that she could remain in touch. She tried to find her daughter online but to no avail.

Amy did not fit into her new life. Unable to get along with her adoptive family she was placed into foster care, but the following year was forcibly removed and sent to an institution. She was later returned to her foster family.

As a teenager Amy began fighting to terminate her adoption, going up against Danish and Ethiopian officials to reconnect with her family.

Her foster mother reads aloud a letter from Amy, drafted to an ombudsman: “I wish to complain that for six years, I was not allowed to visit my family in Ethiopia and to see my country of birth with all my childhood memories and my roots. I remember and miss my sister, my grandpa and the rest of my relatives. I remember and miss the way we spent time together – talking, laughing and telling stories for hours.”

After officials reject her request to leave Denmark to visit her family, she decides to take matters into her own hands, driven by a need to return to those she loves, in a country she holds close to her heart.


By Katrine W Kjaer

When I met Amy I instantly wanted to get to know her better. I had known about her case for several years, but it was not until I met her in person, that I got curious about this girl who was very strong and extremely fragile at the same time. She had already been through so many traumatising events in her young life but she seemed like anything but a victim.

She was so determined to win this fight and regain the relationship with her family in Ethiopia. And I was so privileged that she let me in and allowed me to come along on this dramatic journey.

Girl in Return is a story about identity; about finding your roots in the process of finding yourself. It is a story about the freedom to find out where you come from, even though you are only a child. It follows a young adolescent’s fight against a system as she attempts to find her place in this world.

On another level it is a film about the developing world’s perception of the good life in the West and the fatal choices we as humans make in search of a better life. It also shows a system that takes advantage of that perception and in that process violates the most basic human rights.

I follow Amy for more than five years, in a paramount period of her life, from the age of 13 to 18. I follow her as she decides to actively change her destiny. I follow Amy when she finally decides to escape the Danish authorities in February 2016 and with the help of an international NGO leaves for Ethiopia to be reunited with her family.

And I follow her when she realises that her childhood dreams of home are maybe no longer her home. And that to find her home she needs to find herself.

My reason to keep pursuing the story about intercountry-adoption is my wish to understand the magnitude of the consequences of international adoptions. I aim to explore how it affects everyone involved and to tell a story, which makes us challenge our perception of ourselves as the “superior saviours” of the children from developing countries.