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Jun 02nd
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Guatemala adoptions to begin again


GUATEMALA CITY — The reopening of international adoptions in Guatemala in June might not only mean the chance of a better life for many children, but may also spell a return to corruption, fraud and the theft of babies, human rights groups warn.

A number of organizations expressed concern after the National Adoption Council, the central adoption authority established in 2008, announced in March that a pilot program for the resumption of adoptions abroad would go into effect in June, under stricter oversight.

According to the Council, the situation was studied by experts from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Hague Conference on Private International Law, which approved the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption in 1993.

Nevertheless, human rights groups are worried.

"We are against the reopening of international adoptions now because the same structure of organized crime that generated a major international market to which the country exported between 5,000 and 6,000 children a year is still in place," the head of the Survivors Foundation, Norma Cruz, told IPS.

In 2008, the National Adoption Council suspended foreign adoptions, which were mainly to couples in the United States, to shut down a thriving business that profited lawyers, judges and doctors.

Until the suspension of foreign adoptions, Guatemala was the fourth country in the world in terms of the number of children placed in adoption, after Russia, China and South Korea, according to UNICEF. But in proportion to the population, it was the global leader.

Adoptions were suspended in compliance with the new adoption law in effect since 2007, which created the National Adoption Council and banned "undue benefits, material or otherwise, to accrue to the persons, institutions and authorities involved in the adoption process."

It also put a priority on placing children with Guatemalan families and established that "the poverty or extreme poverty of parents is not sufficient reason to put a child up for adoption."

According to United Nations figures, half of the population of this Central American country of 13 million people is living in poverty, and 17 percent in extreme poverty.

Activists say that behind the booming adoption market in Guatemala was a "mafia" of lawyers, notaries public, "jaladoras" or baby brokers who entice poor young women into placing their children in adoption, so-called "casas de engorde" or "fattening houses" where the expectant mothers' pregnancy and birth-related expenses were covered, officials in civil registers, pediatricians, adoption homes and foster families.

In order to generate confidence in the new adoption process, "the state should give signs that it is prepared to dismantle the child trafficking networks...which remain intact," Cruz said.

The activist cited the case of Alma Valle, a lawyer who was released on bail on Apr. 23, after she was deported from the United States and arrested in Guatemala for her alleged participation in arranging illegal adoptions.

Valle "was released after paying 150,000 quetzals (18,000 dollars) in bail. In just one quarter of 2008 she negotiated the adoption of 150 children. But since she is the wife of an army colonel and has links to the governing party, she was set free," Cruz complained.

The National Adoption Council reports that 214 children, including disabled children and youngsters over the age of seven, are currently available for adoption.

Since November, couples from Austria, Denmark, France, Israel, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States have expressed an interest in adopting Guatemalan children.

The executive director of the Social Movement for the Rights of Children and Adolescents, Felipe García, told IPS the country should not "race" to reopen foreign adoptions, but should first offer a decent life to the children here in Guatemala.

He said a priority has not yet been put on domestic adoptions. Nor have the cases of more than 27,000 children removed from the country under "irregular" circumstances before 2008 been resolved.

The numerous mothers who are demanding the return of children who were stolen from them should be given compensation, García added.

"The Guatemalan state should show a willingness to come up with the necessary mechanisms for children to stay in Guatemala and not have to be adopted by foreigners," he said.

García also said the state was still "under the thumb" of organized crime groups dedicated to illegal adoptions.

Before the new law went into effect, the illegal foreign adoptions of 4,000 to 5,000 Guatemalan children a year generated some 200 million dollars in annual earnings.

Adoptions, which generally took only a year, cost the prospective families between 25,000 and 50,000 dollars, according to human rights groups.

Byron Alvarado, executive secretary of the National Commission on Children and Adolescents, which includes representatives of both the government and civil society, said the National Adoption Council should be better established before adoptions are reopened, because "it has only been functioning for two years."

"Guatemalans don't even know yet what the role of the Adoption Council is," he told IPS.

In his view, international adoption should be a last resort.

But Nidia Aguilar, director of Defense of the Rights of the Child in the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, told IPS that foreign adoptions should be reopened because there are hundreds of youngsters in children's homes who are waiting for a family of their own.

She said there are much bigger hurdles now to prevent illegal adoptions, and that if any do happen, the cases should be reported to the authorities.


Comments (5)
5 Wednesday, 13 October 2010 14:30
Melinda Robinson
One of my best friends was adopted from Guatemala.
4 Monday, 13 September 2010 20:06
I think you are missing the point. Many, if not most, of these children were stolen from their families. Their mothers did not give them up by choice.

Also, although yes Guatemala should be a place where children do not need to be put up for adoption, it is going to take a LONG time for this country to develop that status. And while waiting for this change to slowly come into affect, there are many orphans in Guatemala that need homes.

Americans wanting to adopt from Guatemala is not the cause of illegal adoption. Guatemala's huge problem of corruption is the source.

We should also realize that abortion is illegal in Guatemala even if the mother was raped or is in great medical danger. If a women wants/has to give their children up for adoption they should feel confident that those helping them (the adoption agencies) are not benefitting substantially ($25-50 thousand/child) from their loss.
3 Sunday, 16 May 2010 00:43
Michelle Hernandez
This is blatantly biased and irresponsible journalism. The statement, "Before the new law went into effect, the illegal foreign adoptions of 4,000 to 5,000 Guatemalan children a year generated some 200 million dollars in annual earnings" makes an allegation that over 80 percent of adoptions were done illegally. This is completely false! While I don't dispute that corruption did exist in some cases, the magnitude that is implied here is grossly exaggerated. Furthermore, these were not black market adoptions - they were authorized by both the Guatemalan and United States governments. This is a serious issue that needs to be reported upon, but this so-called-journalist does no one any favors by repeating the unsubstantiated claims of activists while ignoring the social and economic plight of Guatemala's citizens. Furthermore, spreading this misleading and inaccurate information places an undeserved stigma on international adoption and adoptive families.
2 Saturday, 15 May 2010 12:05
Suzanne Hassall
Way to go Kathi!!! If they are so concerned they could have changed things years ago. Banning lawyers, facilitaors, etc is a very simple hing to do and would have helped. Did you notice they did not cite how many actual cases of trafficing or baby stealing they have found. I am not saying that these things did not happen. But that there does not seem to be much concern for the poor in Guatemala and their children suffer. Many, many children do not live to see their second birthday. While being sure that all adoptions are legal and ethical they should help those in desperate poverty.
1 Saturday, 15 May 2010 00:12
Kathi Thomas
Pardon me while I choke "The executive director of the Social Movement for the Rights of Children and Adolescents, Felipe García, told IPS the country should not "race" to reopen foreign adoptions, but should first offer a decent life to the children here in Guatemala."
They don't offer a "decent life" to the children who live there now- lack of medical care, education and food for starters!
In the US, homes for unwed mothers are considered a good thing, but in Guatemala, offering to let a mother live in a home that will provide her with decent food and actual medical care is a "fattening house?"
Our daughter's Mother told us, when we met 4 years after the adoption, that she relinquished for many reasons- poverty was one, but also the lack of opportunities, especially for poor women, weighed into it. She said, over and over, that our daughter had opportunities of which her older daughters still in Guatemala couldn't even dream.
Ban anyone who has ever tried to process a fraudulent adoption (and everyone in their office) from ever processing another adoption. Make it clear that fraud will not be tolerated, but in a country where so many live on less than $1 a day, there is no need to pay women to give up their children. They're trying to do it often to a friend of mine who has a medical clinic there, and he has to tell him he can't help them.
If you want to end adoption, then get to the root cause- abject poverty, lack of education, lack of affordable access to birth control, and a lack of respect for women having the right to say what happens to their bodies.

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