As someone in the midst of an adoption from Guatemala, I feel obliged to give a heads up to my friends and family that you will likely read and hear about horrible things in relation to Guatemalan adoptions


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At the bottom of this e-mail is a story about Guatemalan adoptions which appeared recently in "The State", a South Carolina paper. It was originally printed in the Chicago Tribune. Another story along this line recently appeared in National Geographic. In addition, there is a new movie about international adoption called "Casa de los Babies" about to hit the box office. This movie is about four women who are staying in a Latin-American country awaiting the completion of their adoptions. The movie doesn't state which country it is, and from what I've read about the movie, it really couldn't be any one country in particular. While the movie is not for or against adoption, it will inevitably lead to many more press stories about international adoption. The fact that Guatemala is the only Latin-American country with an active adoption program coupled with the other attention it has been getting lately in the news about adoption and the upcoming elections, it is likely the only country that the media will look into.

As someone in the midst of an adoption from Guatemala, I feel obliged to give a heads up to my friends and family that you will likely read and hear about horrible things in relation to Guatemalan adoptions. The story below is one such example. I want to assure everyone that these things are not true on a systematic or statistically significant level.

What happens with the media is that they immediately turn to two sources of information. First are the Guatemalan lawyers whose statements are automatically discredited because they have a financial stake in the process. The other is to the "experts" in international child issues. Time after time this means UNICEF and Casa Alianza. Both of these groups are dedicated to effectively ending international adoption. They repeatedly dispute the validity of the adoptive family unit, repeat rumors as if they were fact, and rely upon idealistic objectives that ignore any pragmatic solutions. In short, they promote a "throw the baby out with the bathwater" agenda.

A good example is the accusation of babies being kidnapped for international adoption. This IS NOT and COULD NOT be happening today unless there are innumerable people conspiring together, including the private Guatemalan legal community, U.S. adoption agencies, U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, Guatemalan Family Court system, Guatemalan Attorney General's office, children's homes, and the everyday families who provide foster care. For years, DNA testing has been a mandatory requirement in every adoption in order to ensure that the woman relinquishing the child is in fact the biological mother. I am not familiar with the case mentioned at the beginning of this article so I can't comment on it. What I can say is that these children could not have been adopted through the legal system because they would not have been able to pass a DNA test. The test is taken at one of two approved labs. It is a requirement that the biological mother be photographed with the child on her lap when the DNA is collected. These tests are so accurate that the few "bad" tests that have occurred are almost always a case where the biological mother is legally married and, as such, her child is not considered an orphan under U.S. immigration law. So she has a blood relative claim the child in order to allow the child to be eligible for adoption to the United States. The DNA results have to be accurate to a degree that even a blood relative can't pass and these children are not ultimately eligible for adoption. So if the two children mentioned in the story were in fact kidnapped, it was truly for them to be sold into a black market. There is NO way they could get a Visa to enter the U.S. As such, the child would have to be physically smuggled into the United States and somehow documents would need to be obtained in order for the child to remain legally in the country. In short, no honest intentioned parent could end up adopting these children.

Because it is impossible to adopt a kidnapped child, undocumented stories are now spread explaining that while a legitimate DNA test may have been done, it may not have been for the child that ultimately is adopted. Basically, claiming they pull the old "switch-a-roo". This too could not be happening. EVERY adoptive family has pictures of their child from birth and often receive new photos every month or so during the process. The DNA test takes place when the kids are usually about 1-2 months old. The adoptive family receives a copy of the photo taken at the DNA test. Is UNICEF trying to suggest that the adoptive parent would not notice if suddenly the child looks different? Are they trying to say that the same woman could stroll into the same two labs over and over again with the same child to take DNA tests under many different names? Or are they saying that thousands of Guatemalan woman with newborn children are waiting in line to fake DNA tests for lawyers even though none have ever come forward? Once again, if anything like this were happening it would require an even larger conspiracy since the lab is approved and monitored by the U.S. Embassy. Anything like this is something that needs to be criminally prosecuted - no new laws will prevent those who already conspire to break current laws.

The other common claim you read about is that the biological mothers are forced to give up their child. In theory such a thing is possible and probably has occurred. However, the birthmother is interviewed, alone, by a licensed social worker from the Guatemalan Family Court. They are obligated to talk to the biological mother and ensure that the adoption is voluntary and that the mother understands the adoption is permanent and that the child will be leaving Guatemala. Finally, the Social worker is required to tell the biological mother that she has the legal right to take her child back at any point before the adoption is final, months after this interview occurs.

The biological mother has to sign-off on the process four times, including the emotional time during the DNA test when she is required to hold the child on her lap for a photograph. Some say that this is required as another way to ensure that she is voluntarily placing the child for adoption and has not changed her mind since it happens over a month after she has surrendered the child. The final sign-off is right before the process is completed. In the case of this mentioned in the story, it is still unclear how they planned to get this child through the process if the mom really didn't want the child adopted. It is also worth noting that the parties involved could be, and I believe were, criminally prosecuted and incarcerated.

There are many people who maintain contact with their child's biological mother. Nearly every time the reasons for placing the child for adoption are the same - they could not provide food, safety, education or shelter to their child so they did what they thought was best for the child's future. It was not a simple decision. It was not a monetary decision. It was not a happy decision. But it was a voluntary decision based on the unfortunate socio-economic realities in Guatemala.

The fact is that there are bad seeds in any system and the Guatemalan adoption system is no exception. But it is by and large clean so far as fulfilling the needs of children in need of a loving home - the biological mothers choose to relinquish the children, the children are well cared for during the process, and the children end up in good, loving homes. In addition, the odds of it becoming crooked likely increase if put under the centralized control of the corrupt, incapable Guatemalan government. This is one of UNICEF's demands. There is currently not a single government funded orphanage in Guatemala. The four homes currently servicing the government are already over-full and under-funded. For some reason, UNICEF and Casa Alianza don't seem to have many suggestions about how the Guatemalan government is supposed to provide for the children who are now being cared for through the private adoption system.

If there are approximately 2,000 Guatemalan adoptions per year and a few prove to have involved criminal activity which may or may not have had anything to do with whether the child is being voluntarily relinquished, should the overwhelming majority of the children pay the price? UNICEF and Casa Alianza would say "yes". Trust me that the adoption law they propose would effectively end international adoption from Guatemala. They are quick to point out how many adoptions there are from Guatemala compared to other "similar" countries like El Salvador, Ecuador, and Honduras. What they don't point out is that they were successful in ending international adoption in those countries years ago. As a result, more adoptive families turned to Guatemala and caused the "large numbers" of adoptions (it is hard to say that 2,000/yr is excessive in a country where approx. 30,000 children die annually from preventable disease and there are the highest infant mortality and malnutrition rates in the Americas). What they also don't say is what has happened to the children in those other countries that would have otherwise been adopted. These now highly restrictive systems were supposed to lead to more domestic adoptions and adoptions of older, institutionalized children. Yet they vocally judge success by the absence of international adoptions, never mentioning whether the actual goals were achieved.

PLEASE do not accept at face value what you may read on this topic. There are many books and stories written about the questionable objectives and actions of UNICEF and others. Two books, "the Lords of Poverty" and “Road to Hell”, are a good place to start if you're interested. Unfortunately only UNICEF’s pro-choice position is ever presented in the mass media as being controversial.

PLEASE stand up if you hear others talking about this. Since this Chicago Tribune article was published, adoptive parents have had people make rude comments to them suggesting that their adopted child was kidnapped and sold. These media stories have also been painful to children who were adopted from Guatemala. One mother described how upset her daughter got when she read the National Geographic article in school (which showed a beautiful baby in a cardboard box with a caption saying that this child could have been sold). International adoption is a positive force that gives needing children a loving family, a safe home, and opportunities for a future. It is not perfect by any means. Like any system, there are improvements which could be made. But in Guatemala, thus far it has been the lawyers who are positioned to be so evil that have been the ones leading the way for viable reform that does not jeopardize the children. Those like UNICEF and Casa Alianza, who supposedly have only the interest of children in mind, have instead chosen to lobby for reactionary legislation that would end international adoption without offering any alternative or guaranteed standard of care for the children impacted.

One other point of interest (and sorry for this novel) to show how sensationalized our mainstream media has become. The article below was originally titled "Guatemala delays foreign adoptions: Abductions spark push for reform". You can see below how they changed it for the folks in South Carolina.

PLEASE FORWARD THIS ON TO YOUR ADDRESS BOOK so that we can make sure people know the truth. And more importantly, to prevent children adopted from Guatemala from being penalized and harassed!

Guatemala delays foreign adoptions after abductions


Chicago Tribune

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala - (KRT) - Renee Reilly and Yulisa Suhaira Sem Castillo live in two vastly different worlds, but international adoption has brought heartbreak to them both.

Reilly, a pediatric speech therapist from Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood, has been waiting since the spring to adopt a Guatemalan child, a baby boy whose "sweet little face" she and her husband, Kevin, have seen only in photographs.

But six months later, the Reillys' adoption of the boy they have named Adrian is bogged down in a legal, moral and bureaucratic morass as Guatemala struggles to impose a new government-regulated adoption system.

It is a system intended to ensure that no other mother suffers what happened to Sem.

One morning last month, a man with a knife kidnapped Sem's cherubic, curly-haired 2-year-old daughter, Jenifer, as she was returning from the corner store with her 6-year-old brother. After eight days of frantic searching, police found Jenifer in a house with two other stolen children.

They had been swept up in what child advocates say is a black market in babies and toddlers in Guatemala that involves networks of thieves, corrupt doctors, nurses, lawyers, civil registrars and foster-home mothers enticed by the millions of dollars pumped into the country by international adoptions.

"The money tempts everyone," said Sandra Zayas, Guatemala's prosecutor for crimes against women and children. Her office is investigating 110 cases of irregularities in international adoptions.

The adoption predicament in Guatemala is a struggle to figure out how to protect the Sems and the Reillys, among thousands of U.S. couples eager to begin or expand their families who start looking abroad with no intention of getting entwined with anything that would harm children.

It is the story of two worlds at opposite ends of the international adoption process, and what happens when lofty ideas slam up against the hard reality of an impoverished nation with limited capacity to care properly for its children.

Guatemala is the latest nation trying to navigate the complexities of international adoptions, a world in which supply and demand constantly ebb and flow according to changing political and economic conditions. A decade ago, after the collapse of communism, adoption scandals erupted in Russia and Romania. Before that, the focus was on Paraguay, where investigators discovered a baby-selling ring.

Guatemala is the third-largest source of foreign children being adopted by U.S. families, behind only Russia and China, and with that growth has come increased peril.

Last March, Guatemala began implementing the 1993 Hague Convention, which regulates international adoptions. That included eliminating private adoptions and centralizing the process in the attorney general's office, which UNICEF and other proponents say will make adoptions more transparent and decrease the temptation to exploit children for profit.

But critics say more than 1,000 legitimate adoptions have been held up since then, jeopardizing the welfare of the children awaiting new homes, and they contend that the delay proves Guatemala is incapable of implementing an effective state-run system. Private adoption lawyers have challenged the new rules in Guatemala's Constitutional Court.

They say the old system was sufficiently regulated and call the campaign a "money grab" by bureaucrats that could shut down the adoption process, increasing the ranks of street children and leaving others in badly run orphanages.

"We're just in limbo," said Renee Reilly, who adopted a Guatemalan girl, Elena, now 4, with few problems in 1999. "It's a good idea to get the money out of (Guatemala's adoption process), ... but the government hasn't shown it can make it work on any timely basis."

The Reillys have joined with 12 other Illinois couples, from Chicago to Troy, to form an "action group" to lobby against Guatemala's adoption reforms. Earlier this month, they met with a staffer from the office of Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., asking that he push for the resumption of the processing of adoption cases.

The increase in Guatemalan adoptions in recent years is mostly due to what has been a relatively swift, quasi-private process in which an attorney handles most of the paperwork under the nominal supervision of the attorney general's office. A family court judge signs off in the end.

The average cost is from $15,000 to $20,000 per child, excluding travel expenses, with the local Guatemalan attorney taking as much as $5,000 in fees for each case, although adoption agencies in Illinois point out that the fees go toward baby formula, diapers, vaccinations and other supplies that directly benefit the child.

Last year, 2,219 Guatemalan children were adopted by couples in the United States. That was 85 percent of the adopted children leaving Guatemala, and up sharply from 418 children in 1992 and 788 in 1997.

This year, despite the bureaucratic holdups, the U.S. Embassy already had approved 2,103 immigrant visas for adoptions from Guatemala through July, with two months left to go in the fiscal year.

By some estimates, adoptions now bring $45 million into Guatemala, the only Central American nation that allows large numbers of private placements.

The majority of the Guatemala cases are legal, but abuses of the system date back years in a country that suffers from endemic corruption, maintains a per capita income of less than $4,000 per year and still has not completely emerged from the chaos of a bloody, three-decade civil war that ended in 1996.

Prosecutors describe schemes that include "baby factories" of pregnant young women, doctors telling new mothers that their healthy babies have died, employers forcing their domestic servants to surrender newborns and even villagers kidnapping their neighbors' children from the local playground.

They warn about poor, illiterate mothers being threatened or drugged or tricked into putting thumbprints on blank adoption papers. Or about jaladoras, or "pullers" - women who seek out vulnerable pregnant women and subtly offer to buy their children, or who buy from thieves like the one who grabbed Jenifer Sem off the street in August.

"Those eight days weren't days; they were years. All I did was cry," said her mother, Yulisa Sem, holding Jenifer in the prosecutor's office two weeks ago. She said the child will not leave her side now.

Alone, pregnant and desperate, Sonya Elizabeth Alvarado, 21, said she answered an ad in the newspaper last year that read: "Don't have an abortion. We will help you." When she responded, she said she was placed in a house with three other pregnant young women - two of them minors - and two babies without parents.

She said a couple - the man Peruvian, the woman Honduran - would come and go at the house, speaking on cell phones about arranging paperwork, sometimes in English.

For two months, Alvarado said she feared that the couple would pressure her into giving up her baby. She was able to escape only because, a month before her due date, the house was raided by the police, who arrested everyone.

"They said we were accomplices. They said we were machines, making babies for others, but it wasn't true," said Alvarado, who is now living with her 10-month-old son, Yahir, at a shelter for young mothers.

"If my son had been born in that house, I wouldn't have him right now," she said.

Zayas, the prosecutor, can reel off other chilling tales of how the baby rings work.

She said on Jan. 31, a woman gave birth at Roosevelt National Hospital in Guatemala City. But the newborn then disappeared, allegedly taken by a lawyer who wanted the baby for an adoption. He was helped by nurses and workers at the civil registrar's office in the hospital, who helped him arrange false papers, Zayas said.

Concerned about such stories, officials at the U.S. Embassy implemented a new system of safeguards, requiring their own DNA test and a tough face-to-face interview to prove motherhood. But even that is not foolproof, prosecutors say.

In a case last December, a couple from Kentucky successfully adopted a baby with embassy approval only to have the birth mother come forward afterward saying a lawyer had forced her to give up the child. A subsequent review of the paperwork showed that two of her supposed signatures were different.

The birth mother later assented to the couple's taking the baby to the United States, but Zayas said prosecutors are insisting that the couple return to testify against the lawyer before the adoption is finalized.

In 2000, a report by the United Nations special rapporteur on children said international adoptions in Guatemala had turned some kids into "an object of trade and commerce." The report said Guatemala had the "weakest" adoption laws in Central America.

"About six or seven years ago, they (adoption bands) discovered this gold mine," said Hector Dionisio, legal director in Guatemala for Casa Alianza, a child advocacy group. "We agree that it's better to have international adoptions than street kids, but what they've done is opened a market for humans that is very lucrative."

The illegal trade has provoked rumors and paranoia about "baby stealing" in Guatemalan villages, where foreigners have been beaten after trying to take photos of children. In 2000, a Japanese tourist was stoned to death after speaking to a child who later briefly disappeared before being found.

Under the new rules, adoptions are overseen by the attorney general's office, where all DNA testing is supposed to be done. Birth mothers must relinquish a child before a judge, rather than just with a signature or thumbprint, officials said.

All waiting children are supposed to be assigned to state orphanages, rather than private foster homes arranged by private attorneys, and a child can be sent abroad only after an exhaustive search for a home in Guatemala.

But sensing that their livelihoods are at risk under the new arrangements, the country's 400 powerful adoption attorneys declared war and began a multifaceted campaign to overturn the new rules, including rallying the adopting families through the Internet.

The attorneys say Guatemala is about to experience what happened to other Latin American nations when they implemented the more restrictive Hague Convention rules, causing a sharp drop in foreign adoptions. They insist that corruption would be worse under a state-run system.

"If some people don't respect the law, they should be punished, but don't punish everyone," said Jorge Amando Carrillo, a Guatemalan lawyer whose practice is based on doing about 15 adoptions a year. "I call these (new) adoption laws ... more anti-lawyer than pro-child."

The adoption attorneys filed a lawsuit charging that Guatemala had not followed the correct constitutional procedures in subscribing to the Hague Convention. The Constitutional Court is expected to uphold the challenge, thus restoring the attorney-led process.

In the meantime, a new law is being debated in Guatemala's Congress that would enact the same Hague-type rules. Child advocates say perhaps two dozen such legislative attempts have failed already, but they are more hopeful that the Congress is serious this time.

One drawback, however, is that lawmakers envision funding the law with only $600,000, which critics say is far too little to build quality orphanages, construct a DNA lab and add enough family courtrooms to keep the process from bogging down permanently. At least $2.5 million is needed, advocates of the new law say.

The state has only four orphanages, whereas the private adoption money had been enough to fund some 300 foster homes.

Only a few adoptions have been approved since the new rules were enacted in March, and the U.S. Embassy suspended its DNA testing and the issuing of visas until the matter is resolved. That leaves the Reillys and about 1,000 other families frustrated and heartsick.

On a quiet street in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood, the Reillys can only wait, although they are planning a trip to Guatemala to see Adrian soon. They keep tabs on the process mainly through the Cradle, their adoption agency in Evanston, Ill., and through e-mail updates from a Guatemalan attorney.

When they got the referral for their son on April 1, the Reillys were told it would be just a few months before he would be settled in their nursery, where stuffed animals stand guard in the crib and T-shirts remain neatly folded on a dresser.

Still, the very thought of baby trafficking is deeply troubling to the Reillys and the other Illinois families awaiting Guatemalan children.

"No one here wants a family at the expense of another family," Kevin Reilly said.

Advocates of international adoptions worry that the disturbing stories out of Guatemala are obscuring the far more common reality: that the process successfully unites children in need with families who will love them.

"I believe that (fraud) happens, but I don't believe the majority are done that way," said Anne Schmidt, director of international adoption for the Cradle, which has been involved with Guatemala since the early 1990s.

In the meantime, Elena Reilly keeps asking when her new brother will be coming home.

"The problem is that he (Adrian) is 6 months old now, and he hasn't even gotten into the (attorney general's office) yet," Renee Reilly said. "The main concern is that there is just no end in sight."

She added: "Family members ask, `When is he coming home?' Right now I can't give you a month. I can't even give you a year."


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