U.S. Adoptions Fueled by Guatemalan Kidnappings

"Under the law, adoptions are not supposed to produce a profit for anybody," said Nidia Anguilar Del Cid, an official in the office of the government's human rights ombudsman.

"The money for an adoption is only supposed to go toward legal costs and bureaucratic paperwork, which doesn't cost anywhere near the $50,000 some lawyers have charged."

For the past 28 years, private lawyers have handled the adoptions, but when the ban is lifted sometime next year, the government will play an increased role in ensuring children are properly vetted.

Much like Guatemala, the U.S. only recently ratified the Hague Adoption Convention, despite being a longtime signatory. As a result, Americans will only be permitted to adopt through agencies accredited by a national organization and registered with the State Department. Prior to the U.S. implementing the treaty early this year, there was no national organization which vetted or tracked the agencies, which find Guatemalan orphans for American families.

"The Council on Accreditation has been designated by the Department of State to be the sole national accrediting body for agencies in the U.S. involved with children from countries that are also signatories to Hague. To date, we have accredited 195 adoption service providers and 64 providers are still in the process," said Richard Klarberg, president of the council.

"Before [the council] began accrediting agencies there was no way to know if an agency was legit," he said. Agencies that pair parents with children from countries that have yet to join the convention still do not need accreditation, which means, according to Klarberg, "children from one country are more closely vetted than those from non-signatory countries. There's a double standard."

Despite greater government intervention, for American families looking to adopt and the agencies that represent them, the first line of defense to ensure children have not been kidnapped, are the local orphanages.

Mirna Velazquez is director of the Children's Home, an orphanage that was established in Guatemala City 32 years ago, and which, she says, carefully vets all the children who are brought to its gates.

"We guarantee the origins of all the children we put up for adoption. We will not accept a child bought directly from a mother or relative, but only those placed here by the courts," she said.

Adoptions can go forward legally and in the best interests of the birth mother, child and adoptive parents, said Cruz. But not without cracking down on the black market.

"The dark side of these adoptions is the fact that, a noble process intended to help children and allow couples to achieve their dream, has been denigrated and transformed into a market where children are treated like merchandise and gangsters are made into millionaires. We cannot continue to export our babies like fruits and animals or any other product. This is shameful."

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