exposing the dark side of adoption
Register Log in



Prepared by Covenant House

This report describes the serious situation of trafficking of children, affecting boys, girls and youth in the Latin American and Caribbean countries, an illicit activity in which European and North American countries are also involved.
It is necessary to recognize the efforts carried out by governments, officials and civil society organizations that strive to create awareness on the trafficking phenomenon and thus eradicate this crime.
Nevertheless, the situation presently described obliges governments and the international community to intensify efforts in this important endeavor.

[excerpt - complete report attached]

Illegal adoptions

A very specific form of trafficking occurs in Guatemala, which now places more children in adoption per capita than any other country in the world, and is the fourth largest “exporter” of children worldwide. A recent report by UNICEF stated that between 1,000 and 1,500 babies and children are trafficked under this guise every year. The EU cited over 2,000 adoptions in 1997, at a cost of between US $15-20,000 each. At US $20,000 for 2,000 adoptions, the industry grossed US $40 million in one year. The UN Convention on the Rights of theChild clearly states that internal placement for an abandoned child (as opposed to international adoption) is in the best interest of the child.


Guatemala's weak adoption law combined with huge demand from foreign couples has created a market that has reduced babies to merchandise. Lawyers enjoy relative freedom in private adoption procedures and can avoid delays that state-run procedures often encounter; in fact, the actual paperwork they process is completely legal. It is their means of finding babies to sell for adoption that violates children’s rights. Those procuring illegal adoptions employ vast networks to obtain babies, including centers that care for stolen or abandoned babies while adoption proceedings are completed. Midwives persuade poor mothers to give up babies.

Other times these entrepreneurs intentionally deceive mothers: hospital workers invent illnesses hoping the mother will be persuaded, or falsify documents; registry officials obtain thumbprints from illiterate mothers on blank legal paper which they then convert into statements abdicating the child; or mothers are drugged and then their babies stolen.


There is no adoption law in Guatemala and the trafficking of babies is not typified as a crime. Because the actually legal proceedings used for the international adoptions are legitimate, or no evidence exists to prove that they have been falsified, little judiciary recourse is available to prosecute the perpetrators of this crime. U.S., U.K., and Canadian governments have begun to require DNA testing for motherhood of children adopted. Yet a demand still exists for these children.

If the lack of resources and judiciary precedence in these cases weren’t enough to impede holding traffickers accountable, the intimidation that many individuals feel about testifying affords the perpetrators another layer of impunity. Lack of law enforcement and victim protection makes victims feel especially vulnerable to further victimization by perpetrators if they make accusations. Finally, individuals’ experience and established routes for drug smuggling facilitate the smuggling of children who indeed, have been reduced to a commodity.

2004 Jul 1