Adoption vs. trafficking inGuatemala
GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA
Wendy Villatorro's mother told her if she got pregnant again she'd throw her out of the house. Wendy already had one child. But when the young woman got pregnant again, she sought advice from a friend, who told her a lawyer might help place her baby with a foreign family.Skip to next paragraph
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"She said they'd give me $640 if it was a girl and $380 if it was a boy," Ms. Villatorro says, underlining how the "market" can fluctuate depending on demand. Wendy named her baby boy Joshua, because she was told the lawyer's clients liked American names. A few days after he was born, Wendy handed Joshua over to a woman contracted by the lawyer to care for the baby until legalities were completed.
But Wendy still hasn't received her $380 - with second thoughts, she's trying to get Joshua back.
Last year, more than 3,000 women like Wendy gave up their Guatemalan babies for adoption.
Most went to families in the US. Guatemala is fourth in the world for the number of babies provided for adoptions, just behind China, Russia, and South Korea. But the skyrocketing adoptions figures, coupled with mounting reports of cases in which mothers are either offered money, recruited, coerced, or even robbed of their children has unleashed a public backlash that Guatemala's prolific adoption rate is nothing more than trafficking in children. Some allege adoption is a multimillion-dollar-a-year business.
"Our laws don't put many requirements on adoptions, making it as easy as possible for people to adopt," says Hector Dionicio, a lawyer with Guatemala's office of Covenant House-Latin America, a children's rights organization. "But some people have taken advantage of the laws and see a good opportunity to make money in a fast and simple way, and this has converted the noble institution of adoptions into a successful business."
Young ones better off abroad?
However Jorge Carrillo, a lawyer who specializes in adoptions, cautions against sensationalism, saying the young ones are often better off with adoptive families from abroad. "If they close the doors of adoption to these children," he says, "they will be in the streets."
While many stories of baby-nappings are reported widely, child advocates say the problem with Guatemala's adoptions is far more subtle. They say the root of the problem does indeed lie in Guatemala's adoption laws, deemed unique by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and permitting private adoptions with little state oversight. According to a recent UNICEF report on adoptions, fully 99 percent of adoptions in Guatemala are processed this way.
"Everyone says they are letting illegal adoptions go through, " says Juan Francisco Flores, a lawyer with the federal attorney general's office. "That's not true. The problem is that they are legal.'
"We don't know which adoptions are legal and which are not," says Elizabeth Gibbons, UNICEF's representative in Guatemala. "The legal system is so intransparent that legal adoptions go through, and so do illegal ones."
In the recent report, UNICEF recommended that extra-judicial adoptions stop until Guatemala passes an adoption law in line with The Hague Convention for International Adoptions and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.