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New Rules for Lucrative Adoption Business

New Rules for Lucrative Adoption Business

Inés Benítez

GUATEMALA CITY, Oct 16 (IPS) - Non-governmental organisations from Guatemala asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to consider a case involving international adoptions, a lucrative business in this Central American country that is about to be subjected to tougher rules.

At last week’s IACHR hearing in Washington, representatives of the non-governmental Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and Casa Alianza - the Latin American branch of Covenant House, a New York-based child advocacy organisation - sought to update the commission on the situation of adoptions in Guatemala.

The NGOs also asked the IACHR on Friday to consider a case that was presented on Jul. 19, 2006, Byron Alvarado, legal adviser of the Social Movement for the Rights of Children, Adolescents and Young People, told IPS.

The IACHR has not yet issued a report on the case of

Gustavo Tobar

, a Guatemalan taxi driver who complained of irregularities in the adoption of his two sons, Osmín Ricardo and Jeffrey, who have been living with two different families in the United States since they left the country in 1998 at the ages of seven and a one-and-a-half, respectively.

Tobar never consented to the adoption of his children, and says they were taken from their mother - he was working in Mexico at the time - on the basis of false reports that they were neglected, mistreated and malnourished.

While the IACHR considers Tobar’s case, the multi-million international adoption business in Guatemala is facing an uncertain future now that the Guatemalan Congress has ratified a global adoption treaty and is preparing to pass a law that would regulate adoption.

The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, which was ratified by Congress on May 21 and will go into force in Guatemala on Dec. 31, was created to ensure that international adoptions take place in the best interests of the child and with respect for their fundamental rights, and to prevent the abduction, sale of, or traffic in children.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Guatemala is the fourth country in the world in terms of the number of children placed in adoption, after Russia, China and South Korea. But Guatemala, where reports of the trafficking and sale of babies are widespread, is the world's leading ex¬porter of children per capita.

"Cesarean sections are being practiced on women who are seven months pregnant, to be able to register the babies" for adoption on time, before the treaty goes into effect at the end of the year, said Alvarado. These are women who have already arranged with baby brokers and lawyers to give up their babies, and if the adoptions fall through, everyone involved stands to lose the money they were counting on earning.

Behind the booming adoption market in Guatemala is a "mafia" of lawyers, notaries public, "jaladoras" or baby brokers who entice poor young women into placing their children in adoption, so-called "casas de engorde" or "fattening houses" where the expectant mothers’ pregnancy and birth-related expenses are covered, officials in civil registers, pediatricians, adoption homes and foster families, activists told IPS.

"The baby business moves 100 million dollars a year," which mainly benefits lawyers and notaries public, Francisco Rolando Morales, the president of the congressional committee on minors and the family, told IPS. He alluded to "pressure" from lawyers to block passage of the new adoption law, aimed at eliminating the economic incentives from adoption procedures.

Many pregnant women arrange to turn over their newborn babies because they are unable to support them. According to official statistics, more than 50 percent of Guatemala’s population of 13 million lives below the poverty line, although non-governmental organisations put the proportion closer to 80 percent.

Most of the impoverished women who give up their children either willingly or as a result of pressure, coercion or deceit are indigenous or mixed-race women. Indigenous people, who make up as much as 65 percent of the population, have historically suffered from discrimination in Guatemala, and most of them live in poverty.

Nidia Aguilar, director of Defence of the Rights of the Child in the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, told IPS that "over the past 10 years, women have received money in exchange for placing their babies in adoption, and there are cases of women who have given up as many as three children."

Although mothers have admitted to receiving between 650 and 1,600 dollars - a relative fortune for poor women in Guatemala - they receive small sums in comparison to the earnings of lawyers and notaries public.

The new law on adoptions, the passage of which will allow the Hague Convention to go into effect, is in the final stages of approval.

A group of experts from the Hague Conference on Private International Law, the intergovernmental body that adopted the Hague Convention, visited Guatemala for a week in July to provide advice on drafting the new adoptions law and submitted a report to the Guatemalan parliament with suggestions that, according to Morales, have been incorporated in the draft law.

Morales would like to see the law passed before the Nov. 4 presidential runoff election, because after that day, "the interests of the winning party could interfere."

The draft law would create a Rectoría Nacional de Adopciones, an administrative body under the Attorney-General's Office that would be made up of representatives of different state agencies and would approve adoptions.

Adoptions are currently governed by the Civil Code, the Law on Integral Protection for Children and Adolescents and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is no specific law or central regulatory authority for adoptions.

The initiative would also give priority to local adoptions, which currently represent less than two percent of the total; make the process for approving adoptive parents stricter; and put in place greater oversight of the entire process. Foster and adoption homes would be given a deadline to register with the authorities.

So far this year, 2,560 children have been placed in adoption, according to the Attorney-General’s Office, which approves adoptions. In 2006, 4,496 children were adopted, 10 percent more than in 2005.

In Guatemala, the paperwork for adoptions is fast, and the entire process takes no longer than a year, because the adoptions are processed under notaries rather than judges. Most of the couples who adopt children here are from the United States. The entire process costs them between 25,000 and 30,000 dollars, which covers travel expenses, the paperwork and legal costs.

The government of the United States, the country that accounts for virtually all of the adoptions of Guatemalan children, expects to ratify the Hague Convention itself in the first half of 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala told IPS.

So far, 71 countries, including Guatemala, have acceded to the international treaty, which was approved in 1993 and went into effect in 1995.

However, Guatemala does not yet apply the Convention, because in August 2003 the Constitutional Court declared this country’s accession to the Convention unconstitutional, even though it was carried out with congressional approval.

In addition, five parties to the Convention - Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom - objected to Guatemala's adhesion, and have restricted adoptions from this country because of procedures that are not in compliance with the international treaty.

An Aug. 2 press release issued by the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala stated that "in response to concerns about the unregulated adoption process" in Guatemala, the Embassy now requires "a second DNA test, to verify that the adopted child for whom an immigrant visa is being requested is the same child matched at the beginning of the adoption process with the birth parent."

There are cases of women who are deceived or coerced into signing blank documents and undergoing medical tests along with their children in exchange for medical or economic aid and without even being aware that they are submitting to DNA tests, Héctor Augusto Dionisio, head of Casa Alianza’s legal programme, told IPS before taking part in last Friday’s IACHR hearing.

The IACHR was also presented with a report on an Aug. 11 raid of Casa Quivira, an adoption home in the western city of Antigua, where 46 children between the ages of three days and two years were seized due to irregularities in the paperwork for their adoptions, and two lawyers were arrested.

In a Sept. 28 warning posted on the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, the U.S. State Department "urges American citizens not to commence an adoption process from Guatemala at this time. Fundamental changes in Guatemalan and U.S. adoption law will take effect over the next six months. These changes are likely to inject considerable uncertainty into the adoption process."

"We want the corrupt adoption system to end and the transparent Hague Convention system to begin on Dec. 31," said Alvarado.


Gustavo Tobar

hopes that "justice will be done" and that the IACHR will take up his case and pressure the Guatemalan authorities, "because children can’t be like merchandise in a supermarket, coming in different prices, sizes, colours and ages," he told IPS. (END/2007)

2007 Oct 16