Guatemalan Army Admits to Trafficking Kids for Adoption

By Amanda Kloer

September 21, 2009 / change.org

When it comes to talking about the human rights abuses that took place during their long and painful civil war, the Guatemalan military has acted like a cat next to a bathtub: willing to make a lot of noise but not jump in to the issue at hand. Surprisingly, however, the Guatemalan army has finally admitted to kidnapping and selling hundreds of children in international adoptions from 1977 to 1989.

If you're not up on your Guatemalan history, here's the over-simplified version: From the 1960 to 1996, Guatemala was engaged in a bloody, brutal civil war between right-wing, pro-Reaganonmics type government and the left-wing, Che-had-the-right-idea type insurgents. Over 200,000 people were killed or "dissapeared" by the government and the insurgents committed their share of murders and rapes as well. Human rights were about as well-respected as Paris Hilton's quantum physics term paper. And throughout the whole bloody mess, the army kidnapped kids and sold them as part of "international adoptions" both as a way to generate revenue and punish parents who spoke out against the government.

International adoption in Guatemala is nothing new; it has been a source of income there for decades. The chaos and brutality of the civil war meant less regulation of the army's activities and more opportunities for abuse. Guatemala has the highest per capita adoption rate in the world and is a leading provider of children for adoption to the U.S. In fact, 1 in 100 babies born in Guatemala are eventually adopted to parents in the U.S. who are willing to pay up to $30,000 in fees for a child. This money is a huge financial incentive in a country where 75% of the people live below the poverty level and $30,000 may represent untold hope for a desperate family. Advocates fear that mothers may be coerced, financially or politically, into putting their children up for adoption. Similarly, child advocates want to be sure children aren't being adopted into families which will abuse or exploit them.

The issue of international adoption as a front for human trafficking is international, and has affected several countries, including Guatemala. Romania actually banned international adoptions because the problems with exploitation were so severe. Many international agencies and the U.S. government have since asked Romania to lift or relax the ban, since the country cannot support the number of children who need care and Western families are eager to adopt Romanian children. There are a number of model policies for how to screen potential families and set up protective mechanisms to prevent children from being adopted by unscrupulousindividuals and couples. There are not, however, very many model policies for how to prevent mothers from being coerced into giving up their children. That is an area the international adoption community should look into more thoroughly.

It takes some guts to admit that you did something as heinous as kidnap kids for political reasons and then sell them for profit, but the Guatemalan army did the right thing by telling the truth. Their revelation has helped hundreds of families reunite with lost children, most of whom are now adults. It has also shed light on the important issue of international adoption used as a front for trafficking, which will hopefully help other countries identify policy measures to take in order to protect both mothers and children. 

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