Author: Eugene Robinson; Washington Post
LIMA, Peru Sitting in a sparse room at the heavily guarded U.S. Consulate here one recent afternoon, couples from places such as suburban Detroit cradled infants from the shantytowns and mountain villages of Peru.
While the babies cried and cooed, a consular official gave the new parents advice on avoiding cholera, rebel guerrillas and garden-variety urban thugs.
Peru rapidly has become one of the most popular countries for U.S. citizens seeking to adopt foreign-born children, ranking behind only Romania and South Korea last year in the number of adoptions arranged. Europeans, especially Italians, also have flocked to Peru for its short waiting lists and its relatively liberal - if intricate - adoption laws.
But foreign adoption is an emotional issue in this impoverished country of 22 million. Some commentators have described it as a painful acknowledgement that the nation cannot adequately care for its own children, its own future.
The recent arrest of a U.S. citizen here on charges of trafficking in babies has sparked a heated new debate over adoption ethics, procedures, and how best to protect the interests of the children within a system highly vulnerable to abuse.
Most Peruvian adoptions appear to be carried out properly, but there also have been reported instances of what amounts to baby-selling. A few mothers have complained that they were duped into giving up their babies or that their children were kidnapped. Judges have been implicated in schemes to extort bribes in exchange for moving adoption paperwork along.
A total of 639 Peruvian children were adopted by U.S. citizens during the year ending last Sept. 30, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service figures indicate. That was almost double the previous year, but consular officials say the flow of would-be parents appears to have diminished somewhat, perhaps because of Peru's cholera epidemic and recent attacks on U.S. interests by Maoist Shining Path guerrillas.
Peruvian laws require prospective parents to have local custody of a child for up to two months before the adoption can become final.
Adopting a child here usually costs $10,000 to $15,000. U.S. Consul General Ginny Carson Young said Peruvian laws allow single-parent adoptions and provide no age limit for adoptive parents.
Beset by economic crisis and political violence, Peru has no shortage of adoption candidates.
"There are so many unwanted children in this country that one would not have to resort to kidnapping or coercion," Young said. "We're often talking about the eighth child in a family with a $200 monthly income."
But the Peruvian judicial system, through which adoptions must pass, is "easily abused," Young said. The courts are clogged and inefficient, plagued by long delays.
Some officials say that while abuses doubtless occur, adoption is generally a good option for impoverished mothers who have nowhere else to turn.