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U.N. studies international adoptions in Guatemala


Associated Press Archive

Author: LAURA WIDES; Associated Press Writer


A U.N. investigator began examining the international adoption business in Guatemala on Monday, focusing on high agency fees and allegations that women are pressured to give up their babies.

Poverty, lax regulation and the country's 36-year civil war have made Guatemala the fourth-largest foreign supplier of children to U.S. adoptive parents. Only Russia, China and South Korea send more children to the United States.

U.N. special investigator Ofelia Calcetas-Santos came to Guatemala at the government's request to study allegations that children are being sold to adoptive parents. She met Monday with government representatives and children's advocates.

In recent years, local child advocacy groups have complained of lawyers who force or trick mothers into giving up their children, and of large amounts of money paid by adoptive parents.

Most of the groups support international adoptions but say the government should better regulate the process.

Under Guatemalan law, as long as a lawyer and the birth mother authorize the adoption, there is no requirement that the government become involved. There is no way for authorities to know whether a mother was pressured or even blackmailed to give up her baby.

"Often intermediaries look for poor women or prostitutes, telling them that they will help pay for prenatal care and recuperation costs after the baby is delivered," said Hector Dimicio, director of the local office for the child advocacy group Casa Alianza.

Birth mothers receive about $100 in assistance, while foreign adoption agencies often pay between $3,000 and $30,000 for the children, Dimicio said.

U.S. immigration officials have records of more than 1,000 approved adoptions of Guatemalan children in 1997. Local advocacy groups say more than 2,300 Guatemalan children were adopted that year, with 80 percent heading to the United States.

In the past year, Casa Alianza has helped four mothers recover children they were forced to give up; more cases are pending in the courts.

Calcetas-Santos also will investigate the sale of children for use in prostitution and pornography. On Tuesday, she meets with people who were arrested two years ago for involvement in a prostitution ring involving children.

1999 Jul 19