Illegal Adoption Frustrated

Date: 1999-02-18

CERIGUA WEEKLY BRIEFS, NUMBER 7, FEBRUARY 18, 1999

Illegal Adoption Frustrated

Guatemala City, February 15. A mother and child were reunited this week, after the Chimaltenango Juvenile Court of First Instance intervened to stop a foreign couple from adopting the infant.

Judge Maria Consuelo Torres ordered the Children of Guatemala orphanage to hand over two-year-old Marlen Sofia Diaz Borrayo to her mother, bringing to a close a legal battle that had lasted more than a year. The judge ruled that the mother, Iris Xiomera Borrayo, had not abandoned her daughter as juvenile court judge Aida Marisuya de De Leon and the orphanage's legal advisor, Susana de Umana, had claimed.

Casa Alianza, a child advocacy group that has worked to stop the illegal trade of children, represented the mother in the case. The organization won a similar victory last August, when Elivia Ramirez Cano won her son Pablo back from potential adoptive parents. Pablo was separated from his mother at birth against her will.

But Casa Alianza has also come under attack for crusading against illegal adoptions. Umana brought charges of defamation against its regional director for Latin America, Bruce Harris, after he publicly accused the notary public, whose husband sits on the Supreme Court, of using her influence in the justice system to move her adoption cases forward quickly. Investigations by Casa Alianza in coordination with then Solicitor General Asisclo Valladares led authorities to lay charges in 17 cases of dubious adoptions, including ones overseen by Umana.

Although a final decision in the defamation case is pending, the Constitutional Court ruled last month that Harris could not use freedom of expression as a defense since he did not work for the media. In addition the judges decided that Umana was not acting as a public servant -- and therefore open to public scrutiny and criticism -- in her dealings with the courts.

Umana has launched a similar action against Oscar Recinos, head of the anti-crime group Neighborhood Guardians. Recinos recently arranged a press conference where Xiomera and two other families accused Umana of "stealing" their children.

International adoptions, which make up more than 95 percent of all adoptions in Guatemala, bring in some US$20 million a year to the country, most of it paid to the lawyers who oversee the process and handle the paperwork. According to UNICEF, between 1,000 and 1,500 children are "exported" every year. This legal process "brings big profits to a small group of professionals and high-level state functionaries," a report by the fund states.

Stories of mothers who are duped or forced into giving up their babies, others whose children are stolen or bought and then passed on to -- often unwitting -- "buyers" in the North, have become increasingly common.

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