Thursday, April 05, 2007

Guatemala: Baby Farming

Martha lives in Guatemala.

She is a 14 year old unwed mother who lives in a house for unwed mothers.

Sometime in the last year, Martha gave up her baby up for adoption.

If you adopted a young infant from Guatemala in the last year and were told that your child was given up for adoption by an unmarried teen, Martha or one of her unwed housemates could possibly be the birthmother of your son or daughter.

If you think that you understand something of Martha's story based on the above description...think again. It is NOT what you think.

Martha's story is the not the archetypal story of a teenager who became pregnant by accident.

In fact, Martha doesn't even have a boyfriend.

And no, her pregancy can't be blamed on a failed teen marriage.

Nor was Martha pregnant by a violent act--not by rape or even incest.

Martha was, in fact, even at age 13, pregnant by design. And before she ever became pregnant, she understood that she would not keep her baby. Her firstborn son or daughter, would have to be surrendered for adoption.

Martha knew that once she had given birth, she would likely never see her child again.

Two years ago when she was 12, Martha's father was approached by a man who came to their slum in a car.

For what it's worth, you should know that Martha's father is a man who works very hard--back-breakingly hard--and long hours on a nearby coffee plantation in order to try to support his family. Unfortunately, however, Martha's father's hard work falls woefully short of supporting his family. This is because he earns very low wages--wages so low that they have his family living in a cardboard box, wages so low that he has watched six of Martha's eleven siblings die from starvation and the related ravages of severe and grinding poverty. Martha's family's poverty dogs them like a lion guarding its prey. It is always there, watching them, lying in wait until the right moment--and then one by one, it leaps forward and devours them.

Anyway, this man in a car offered to take Martha away to live with him and his wife in their little house. It wouldn't be just the three of them, but Martha and the man and his wife would be living with several other young teen-aged girls. Martha would be looked after and be well fed. In terms of manual labor, Martha's work load would be light--she would be given household tasks like caring for the couple's garden and doing their and the other girls' laundry. However, the financially valuable work that Martha would be doing--the work for which this man in the car was willing to pay Martha's father-- would be unseen, showing only over the months as her belly grew to bulging proportions.

And if and when Martha succeeded in producing and successfully giving birth to a live, healthy baby, then the man in the car, would then pay Martha's father $300--the equivalent of a year's salary (at his coffee plantation wages). In fact, Martha could continue to live with this man for several years, producing babies, one after another. There would be money for Martha's father for every baby that Martha produced.

This kind of parental "choice"--the choice between helplessly watching all your children continue be in grave danger of dying or betraying one of them to possibly save the lives of the other(s)--is the kind of hellish choice that a movie called Sofie's Choice made famous.

Here it was in Martha's father's face.

What should he do? Should he prostitute out his 12 year old daughter to be a kind of brood mare for the adoption industry? Should be arrange to have his own grandchildren created and sold off like farm animals in an attempt to save his own remaining six children from dying from the ravages of poverty?

Or should he take the moral high ground and risk having his children--including Martha--die of starvation?

It was a Sophie's Choice, and in the end, like the tortured Sophie, he chose to gamble one child away to save the others.

What could he do but say yes?

And so, there it was. Martha's father said yes.

Martha was taken away at 12 years of age. A man whom she didn't know came shortly thereafter and impregnated her. Martha's valuable work happened over the months that followed as she lived in the little house with the man who had come in the car, the man's wife, and six other young teen girls. Those six other girls are also doing the same valuable work as Martha.

I guess it is what you call a home business. A clever way to keep a man and his wife and the families of the girls who do this valuable work for them, out of completely abject poverty.

A "cottage industry" for the new millenium.

A realistic business for the brave new world where the right to nurture a child from infancy through adulthood--the privilege of becoming a child's forever family--is worth thousands of dollars--a literal fortune by the time you take account of exchange rates in poor countries--on the world market.

A business for the global economy that finds and supplies whatever the global market demands without regard to local ecology, local suffering, or theoretical and unseen things like human rights and human decency.

In a world where adoption angels abound....the Martha's of the world simply do not exist. Period. End of story.

In regard to this particular example of the cottage industry, to save money and keep out of trouble (doctors can ask pesky questions sometimes), the girls are not provided with prenatal care. Neither are doctors or midwives provided when it comes time for the girls to give birth; in Martha's home, the man and his wife are the ones who assist with the girls' births.

Of course, there is a sometimes a high cost for do-it-yourself medical care. One of the girls recently died in childbirth.

I guess that death got Martha a little worried, because she secretly (against the rules) wandered into a nearby doctor's clinic, a humanitarian clinic operated by a US physician, to ask for some minimal prenatal care and some prenatal vitamins.

Which is how the outside world began to get the first real clue that she and this presumed cottage industry exist in Guatemala. How many Martha's and how many of these "cottage industries" churning out human children for adoption exist or don't exist is anyone's guess. The numbers may be large or small. Those who know about such things aren't talking about them.

The doctor that she approached became so disturbed at Martha's situation and her story that he decided to do something about it. He decided to start by telling someone local whom he trusted. He got nowhere with that. In fact, he was instead warned that he should drop it because frankly, no one cares and those who care, care because they are (literally) *invested* in seeing the practice continue. It might be dangerous to him to pursue justice.

The doctor was disturbed enough to be brave and take his knowledge to others--to human rights groups in both Guatemala and in the US. To his horror, no one seemed to care about the exploitation of Martha and her housemates. Well known human rights groups simply said the equivalent of SO WHAT??

The doctor wrote up an account of what he found and it was published on the last page of the newsletter for a non-profit group which works to better the lives of Guatemalan children through education.

The doctor's account is a plea for someone, somewhere to care about Martha and her friends and family and their situation.

It is a plea for the human community to care about Martha's exploitation as a human baby machine activated to keep her family from starving to death.

It is a plea for justice and human decency.

I write this account of his account because I think that is time for the world and the adoption community to be aware of the voiceless Martha's and Martha's fathers of the world.

As American adoption agencies scramble to assure prospective adoptive parents that Guatemala, a country that places more children per capita for international adoption than any other country in the world and thus has a $150,000,000 a year adoption industry to show for it--is not nearly as ethically risky a place from which to adopt as the US DOS states that it is (see my blog entry of March 15,2007 , "US DOS Issues Notice About Guatemalan Adoption"), the question it?

Is Guatemala simply a country, that, for whatever reason, is so chock full of healthy young orphans in need of homes so that it is, with the help of an agency and a Guatemalan attorney, a prospective adoptive parent's dream come true?

Or is it a place where prospective parents, with their expendable $$$, have come to expect to find healthy, young baby orphans, and so there are those in Guatemala who are consequently continuing "to find" healthy, young baby orphans?

NOTE: I do not mean to imply that Guatemala produces no legitimate orphans, I am merely questioning their continuing goodly supply of orphans. And asking the world and us adoptive parents to start demanded answers. Investigations. Whatever it takes to ensure that we aren't receiving our adoptable babies on the backs of the Martha's of the world.

When the adoption of a single Guatemalan child involves up to $30,000 (the equivalent of more than a lifetime of wages for those who are producing the children), and a country is filled with poor people eaking out a living on $300 a year, could there maybe be some real incentive for corruption in adoption. And where there is that kind of incentive for corruption, is it reasonable to believe that it doesn't exist and it isn't gobbling up girls like Martha?


GSSG News, Volume IV, Number 1, March 2006

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