GUATEMALA CITY – With millions of dollars changing hands, foreign adoptions of Guatemalan children are creating a “criminal economy” in this Central American country, according to a report presented here Nov. 20.
The report, entitled “Adoptions in Guatemala: Protection or Market?,” describes baby brokers falsifying documents, bribing public officials and even snatching infants from their mothers at gunpoint.
The study is the work of experts from the Presidential Secretariat of Social Welfare, the human-rights office of the Catholic archdiocese of Guatemala City, the Myrna Mack Foundation and the Survivors Foundation.
The authors point to “a criminal economy directly related to adoptions that involves countless individuals and firms” and which has met with no effective response from authorities.
That absence of enforcement, the study says, leads to the conclusion “that agents of justice are involved in the adoption rings” and facilitate their activities.
“The leaders of the criminal economy have created mechanisms to ensure the procurement of babies, later coordinate the adoption proceedings before the PGN (Attorney General’s Office) and guarantee economic benefits for all the members of the adoptions network,” the report says.
The study identifies scores of lawyers, doctors, nurses, midwives, social workers, hotel owners, interpreters, public registrars and other civil servants as members of adoption rings. The report says that traffickers, faced with a growing demand for children to adopt, have resorted to taking babies from their mothers by force, usually targeting young, impoverished women.
Each adoption generates anywhere from $13,000 to $40,000 in fees to be shared among the participants, the study says.
Official figures show Guatemalan authorities have authorized 18,376 adoptions since 2004, and that only 0.5% of those children were placed with other families in Guatemala.
Ninety-four percent of the youngsters adopted by foreigners went to the United States.
Currently, lawyers can get adoptions approved in Guatemala with few questions asked.
Scores of Guatemalan women who say their babies were kidnapped by illegal-adoption rings protested Nov. 19 outside the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Guatemala City, where Ana Escobar, 26, said that her 6-month-old infant was snatched from her arms eight months ago in a poor neighborhood on the capital’s north side.
“Two armed men beat me and took my son from my arms,” Escobar said. “Before leaving, they told me they would kill me if I reported the kidnapping.”
She said Guatemalan officials routinely “authorize the (adoption) procedures without investigating whether the children given in adoption have been stolen from their biological mothers.”
Escobar, who is being aided by the Survivors Foundation, said that police, prosecutors and the courts all turned her away when she approached them.
Survivors Foundation president Norma Cruz said that her group will lead protests all this week in front of Guatemala’s Supreme Court and Congress to press for the adoption of legislation that conforms to the Hague Convention on international adoptions.
She said that attorneys specializing in shady adoptions have lobbied lawmakers to prevent the passage of such a law so they could “go on exporting our children.”