U.S. Adoptions Fueled by Guatemalan Kidnappings

The government's new focus on pending international adoptions offers little solace to Par. Human rights investigators believe her daughter was adopted by an American family more than a year ago.

Last week, Par and three other mothers of kidnapped children began a hunger strike outside the presidential palace.

Daughter Tracked by Investigators

For days after Par's daughter, Heidy — then 1 year old — went missing, Par visited every police station she could to file a report. Three months later, with pressure from the Sobrevivientes Foundation, police found the kidnapper. Soon after, they believe they found documents that confirm the girl, who turned 3 on May 1, was adopted by an American couple.

Six months ago, Sobrevivientes investigators and a team from the Guatemalan national police department found a passport and adoption documents, issued by the Migration Department, to a girl Heidy's age under a different name.

Investigators recognized the girl in the passport photo. It was Heidy.

The foundation would not reveal the name or location of the American family that they believe adopted Heidy, because the investigation remains active. The Guatemalan government is overseeing the investigation, and Par has given a DNA sample in an effort to confirm her maternity.

Cruz said the case could soon be closed and Par reunited with her daughter. The American couple, like many who adopt from Guatemala, likely believed they were dealing with a reputable agency and had no idea the baby had been kidnapped, according to Cruz.

International Adoptions Dip

On the whole, international adoptions by American parents have been slowly declining over the past four years. There were 23,000 babies adopted from foreign countries in 2004, and just 19,613 in 2007, according to the State Department.

Adoption rates have fallen as traditional source countries, like Cambodia, have banned international adoptions outright, and others, like South Korea, have encouraged domestic adoptions.

But the opposite is true of U.S.-Guatemala adoptions.

With fewer options available to them, Americans have, in the same period, increasingly turned to Guatemala. Orphan visas issued to Guatemalan children rose from 3,262 in 2004 to 4,728 in 2007.

In Guatemala, a national industry has developed around adoption, with specialty lawyers offering their services, and hotels catering to the thousands of American couples who visit for the sole purpose of finding a child.

As a result, the measures kidnappers have taken to get a piece of the action have become increasingly brazen.

'There Was Nothing I Could Do'

"My daughter, Angely Lisset Hernandez Rodriguez, was kidnapped as I was entering my home," said Loida Rodriguez, one of the mothers on hunger strike outside the offices of Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom. "A woman appeared in my backyard and grabbed her out of my arms. There was nothing I could do."

Rodriguez's daughter was taken from her a year ago and would be 3 years old now.

She said police were indifferent to her case and offered virtually no help in finding the kidnappers.

Rodriguez still does not know the fate of her daughter or if she ended up in an orphanage.

Incidents of kidnapping, government officials hope, will decline, now that the country is implementing the Hague Convention on Adoption, an international treaty that sets guidelines for adoptions. Guatemala also passed its own adoption law in January.

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