Guatemalan Children In Limbo of Orphanages

Parents Push U.S. Officials to Help

By N.C. Aizenman/Washington Post
Thursday, June 18, 2009

More than a year and a half after Paul Kvinta and his wife began what they expected would be a seven-month process to adopt a newborn girl from Guatemala, little Marcela and an estimated 700 other children are languishing in orphanages there as their cases wend through a maze of legal hurdles and bureaucratic snags.

"It's Kafka-esque," said Kvinta, an Atlanta magazine writer who was among several dozen people who demonstrated in front of the Capitol yesterday and urged U.S. officials to advocate more aggressively on their behalf. "And the real killer is that we don't have a clue how much longer it will go on."

Marcela and the other children are holdovers from a decade in which Guatemala sent more than 4,000 children a year for adoption to the United States, more than any country except China. At the start of last year, after months of hotly debated allegations that adoption brokers were paying women to give up their children or even stealing them, Guatemala's congress enacted tough regulations that effectively ended international adoptions.

The roughly 3,000 cases in progress were supposed to be exempt from the new rules. But Guatemalan officials interpreted the law as a mandate to subject the pending cases to new levels of scrutiny.

Kvinta and others said they do not fault the Guatemalan government for its caution. Under the old system, no government agency was charged with matching mothers who sought to give up their children with adoptive parents. A network of private notaries and attorneys sprang up to fill the void, charging adoptive parents $20,000 to $30,000.

Critics said this was a huge markup, that, combined with Guatemala's severe poverty and history of corruption, created opportunities for abuse. Stories circulated of lawyers paying jaladores, or touts, to roam the countryside in search of women to pressure, pay or trick into giving up their children. Although the Guatemalan solicitor general's office had to sign off on all international adoptions, critics said that it did a poor job of catching such cases.

Now, however, adopting parents say that Guatemalan officials have become so guarded that they nitpick, victimizing the children they are supposed to protect.

"Eighteen months is more than enough time to determine whether these cases had any type of corruption associated with them," said Tom DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children's Services, a child welfare organization that is advocating on behalf of many parents. "Meanwhile, you have these children sitting there suffering the debilitating effects of institutionalization."

At least six months of the delay was because of a decision by the new government agency tasked with overseeing adoptions, known by its Spanish initials CNA, to reinterview all biological mothers in pending cases.

Elizabeth Hernandez de Larios, president of the CNA, said she regrets the delay. But she said the interviewers identified 37 cases of baby buying or stealing. She said she suspects that many of what she said are 1,032 cases in which neither the mother nor the child came forward also might have involved fraud.

"Children were being ordered up like in a factory," she said. "It was an industry."

In the meantime, hundreds of cases were approved by the CNA, only to hit roadblocks within the solicitor general's office, which must sign off on them. Marcela's adoption was delayed one month when officials found a typographical error on her birth certificate, then another month when the same officials rejected the amended birth certificate, demanding that Kvinta get an entirely new one.


Franklin Azurdia, an official with the solicitor general's office who works with adoption cases, said that if his agency seems cautious, it is because investigators have come across 15 cases in which children adopted and taken to the United States turned out to have been stolen or bought. Some cases involved the collusion of officials within his agency, he said.

"We want to finish this process up as soon as we can, too," Azurdia said. "But we're checking and re-checking every detail because we don't want to approve any new cases in which there's the most minimal suspicion that it's not legitimate."

Once Marcela's birth certificate was resubmitted to the solicitor general's office, her case was delayed yet again when a birth records official was charged with corruption. Although Marcela's birth mother reaffirmed her desire to give up the girl, government officials put a hold on all adoption cases that the accused official had handled. The hold was lifted last month, but by then Marcela's case had run into a new barrier: The Guatemalan government is standardizing all birth certificates, so Marcela must get another certificate under the new system, a process that could take as long as a year.

Kvinta, who said he worries that Marcela will have a hard time bonding with him and his wife after so much time in the orphanage, has decided to move to Guatemala so he can visit the girl every day. His wife, whose job is less flexible, will remain in Atlanta. "It will be hard on our marriage, but we don't know what else to do," he said.

Rhonda Felgenhauer, a customer service representative from Bolivar, Ohio, said she wishes she could do the same. After almost two years of delays, she and her husband were granted full custody of their 5-year-old daughter, Julia, in the fall, only to learn that they cannot bring her from the orphanage because it is under investigation. The holdup is all the more perplexing because the couple adopted Julia's 8-year-old sister from that orphanage in months with no complications.

Unable to visit the child more than a few days at a time, Felgenhauer said she relies on news from other parents with children in the orphanage, and it is not promising.

"Everyone tells me that whenever someone walks in, Julie is the first child to run up and take their hand," Felgenhauer said. "She so badly needs affection, to have a family. I worry that she is going to have attachment problems if this goes on much longer."


The rush to supply

In other adoption-scam cases, (like the Banks and Galindo, just to name two), it's been noted that mothers are approached by adoption agency volunteers/workers telling them their children would be educated in America, correspond through e-mails and phone calls, return home for visits, and come home for good when they reached age 18.  These adoption recruiters will approach these parents in hospitals, the orphanages (where poor parents send thier children to live during exceptionally hard-times), even on the streets. 

Giving consent for a free education, room and board for up to 18 years is NOT the same as giving consent to relinquish all parental rights.

What fascinates me time and time again is this undying wish to SPEED the adoption process, even when American PAP's know corruption, abductions, birth certificate changes are made without much question.

adopting parents say that Guatemalan officials have become so guarded that they nitpick, victimizing the children they are supposed to protect.

"Eighteen months is more than enough time to determine whether these cases had any type of corruption associated with them," said Tom DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children's Services, a child welfare organization that is advocating on behalf of many parents. "Meanwhile, you have these children sitting there suffering the debilitating effects of institutionalization."

From what I understand from the above article, there are 3000 cases in-process and progress -- this means there are 3000 children on adoption stand-by, awaiting their next move to some home in America.  Forget the time it takes to learn the legitimacy of a birth certificate.... is 18 months more than enough time to make sure a child has NOT been scammed away from a parent/family member AND is that enough time to be close-to-sure the person adopting is not looking forward to sending friends photos of his/her new adopted child on the Internet?  [See sexual exploitation pages.]

3000 cases at $20, 000 - $30,000 (American dollars) per case, you can't tell me an orphanage, that gets a certain percentage of that money as it's mandatory donation fee, can't improve the living conditions of "waiting children" ?

Am I missing something? 

What really goes on...

If the 18 months were used to TRULY investigate the child's TRUE relinquishment and adoptability there would be less fraud.  But I know from first hand experience what happens during this time.  More money changes more hands.  The paperwork sits, waiting the $50.00 (many time over) to be placed between the pages of each document required.  There is NO investigation going on... there may be a sobbing birth mother pounding on the door of the abductors; and there may be money given through that door for her to give it more time.  The thousand paid are never given to the mother or the missionaries or the people who pass that child on...  the thousands go to the lawyers and then THEY hand down what they HAVE to in order for the adoption to go forward.  But the poorest are given little, and told to NEVER come back, while the more agressive do keep coming back.
Yes, the orphanage OFFICIALS get thousands, but the REAL orphanage sees very little of the big money.  WE, the adoptive parents BRING money and gifts for EVERY person at the orphanage.  WE are asked for more and more as we prepare to travel.  I've seen it with my own eyes in several countries.  Guatemalan officials who sign the papers get a HUGE amount of the money.  Yes, we pay an overseas fee.  But that is divided, from the top down; and what trickles down is very little.
PAP's buys thing in-country for the orphanages, too; but the first money is designated to the high-ups who are government officials who sign papers.
No, Kerry, 18 months is not too long to TRULY investigate each child's LEGAL status.  IF that's what they are doing...

What did I ever do to deserve this... Teddy

who's to blame?

Actually from those 3000 cases mentioned in the articles, some 700 to 900 are still pending. In that sense Guatemala avoided the outcry that took place when Romania banned inter-country adoption in 2001. Yet for many this is not good enough. In most part adopters have themselves to blame in this case. Guatemala has been known to have a corrupt adoption system for a really long time. Already in 2001 Canada stopped inter-country adoption with Guatemala, so did the Netherlands, Germany; Spain followed in 2002 and Norway in 2003. These countries also made reservations about the position of Guatemala with the Hague Conference in June 2003. Yet the import of Guatemalan babies in the US tripled from 2001 to 2007. Still American adoption agencies and adoption advocates hailed the country for its "adoption friendly climate".

Elizabeth Bartholet, staunch supporter of the laissez faire approach to adoption as found in Guatemala, despite clear warnings of large scale corruption and the call from several other countries to stop inter-country adoption from that country, called Guatemala a leader:

This is the move of history. Guatemala should take pride in the position of leadership that it now holds. Guatemala is arguably the best – certainly it is one of the best – of the sending countries in terms of its treatment of kids in need of homes and its related IA regulation. I am outraged to hear that Guatemala is being told by various forces that it needs to "reform" so that it can achieve "international standards."

from: Keynote, Jan 20, ‘05: "Defining the Best Interests of the Child", Focus on Adoption Conference

According to Bartholet, the soaring figures, from ca. 400 up until 1996, to 4727 children in 2007, are a sign the system is working, something Guatemala should be proud of. She urges to look at the positive, the many children finding loving families (code for: American families finding children they desire), instead of focusing on the negative. In that sense she reminds us of the King of Swamp Castle, played by Michael Palin in Monty Python's Holy Grail, who after the slaughtering of half the people attending a wedding exclaims: Please Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let's not bicker and argue over who killed who. We are here today to witness the union of two young people in the joyful bond of a holy wedlock.

Unfortunately the words of Mrs. Bartholet are not uncommon to those involved in the adoption from Guatemala. In an interview on WYPR in Baltimore related to the protest mentioned in the above articles, Tom DiFilipo, CEO of the Joint Council on International Children's services, an adoption advocacy organization with a broad membership's base among internationally operating adoption agencies, says:

There was a commercialization of the process and there were some cases, maybe three or four, that we'd become aware of, where the children were actually stolen from their parents or where  the parents were induced financially.

So, while Tom DiFilipo admits there were some irregularities in the system, he grossly downplays the situation, by making a mockery of it, saying it were three or four cases. Key is of course the additional phrasing "that we were aware of". If he had looked the other way more than he already did, he could just as well said: the one or two cases we were aware of.

It is also interesting to see how the position of the adopters who find themselves in a limbo with regards to receiving their child from Guatemala are being compared to parents giving birth. Tom DiFilipo says:

Imagine this, you give, you and you wife have a child, you give birth and then two weeks later your child is removed and put in an institution and you can't bring that child into your family.

Another point brought forward by DiFilipo is the effect of institutionalization on infants, referring to the now legendary Bucarest Early Intervention Program, which has become emblematic for all arguments in favour of inter-country adoptions. Over a five-year period several researchers performed a study into the effects of institutionalization on children. The study showed that children in institutions had reduced brain growth and lower IQ than children who were placed in foster care or were placed for adoption. The problem with this study though, is that it relates to one specific setting, that of a large state run orphanage in Bucarest, Romania. At best the study tells these results apply to children in that specific setting. The study cannot be repeated for ethical reasons and already at the time the study ran was criticized because of ethical issues (if you believe institutionalization is not good for children, why keep some in that setting to study them?). The fact this study is not possible to reproduce, it is unknown what the effect of institutionalization is in a different setting. The orphanages in Guatemala involved in inter-country adoption are vastly different from the orphanages found in Romania at the time. The Guatemalan orphanages are much smaller, usually built with the assistance of adoption agencies, providing much better care, with more and better trained staff than the children's warehouses in place in Romania in the 1990's.

After all the response to the crack down of adoptions from Guatemala is as predictable as ever. Projecting the frustration of the prospective adopters onto the needs of the children and downplaying the real issues that lead to the crack down.

Fast and speedy adoptions, the trade mark of Guatemala's system in the end always lead to an overheated market in which corruption takes the upper hand. Even those who are in favour of inter-country adoption should see it is a stupid course of action to down play this perpetual effect. After all countries will ban inter-country adoption because it is not a working option. Those bans may be temporary, but given the old infrastructure never really disappears, the old practices get back the moment a country reopens. Again Romania is the perfect example. The country had inter-country adoption almost all through the 1980's, until Ceaucescu banned it three years before he got overthrown. Immediately after his fall those who had worked in adoption previously relaunched their businesses, which lead to a boom in adoptions early 1990's. This lead to a temporary ban, which when lifted resulted in an even larger boom. The same pattern will probably take place in Guatemala if that country decides to restart business. The lawyers have not gone away, nor have their contacts. The Hague will not do anything to curb that. Central Authority or no Central Authority, the adoption infrastructure already exists and no treaty is going to change the informal organization. It will only institute a layer of indirection that makes it look differently.

Westerners/Americans you amaze me!

These type of healthy baby buying and selling is fueled by the American dollar, supply and demand$$. Money can buy anything in poor third world nations.
How many of you prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) if you would take your head out of your asses would actually complete your adoption if you know or knew that there was human trafficking involved?
Their demand for healthy babies causes a baby factory, whilest the older children (harder to adopt) sit in waiting. We have enough orphans in the world yet we produce MORE? BECAUSE OF our thirst for healthy babies?
This demand for healthy babies has gotten so out of hand that many American Adoption Agencies are offering International Surrogacy in Ukraine, Guatemala and India. Very Slimey!
That is right, if there is not a poor orphan that is "proper relinquished" as defined by the US State Department as being an adoptable orphan for a Orphan Visa can rent-a-womb of a poor woman cheaply and produce one.
Sick stuff, and amazing that the UCSIS is allowing this type of medical fraud and trafficking.

Pound Pup Legacy