The recent raid of the Guatemalan orphanage Casa Quivera provides the context for a rare and thoughtful exploration of different perspectives on the problems current in Guatemalan adoption, and also, of some of these problems' "bigger picture" causes.
The article begins by describing the recent raid of a Guatemalan orphanage, Casa Quivera, in which the Guatemalan government took custody of 46 infants destined for international adoption in order to scrutinize their paperwork and determine if they had been legally relinquished. The article follows the different ways that this raid is perceived by different parties within Guatemala and the US.
For Carmen de Wenner, Guatemala's Secretary for Social Welfare, the essential thing is to determine if the children were trafficked and if therefore, they are legitimately available for adoption:
"'If these children were bought in the womb,' de Wenner says, 'that is a crime."For Ana Escobar, a Guatemalan mother whose six month old was stolen from her at gunpoint and who believes that her child was likely conveyed into the thriving international adoption system where the infant could fetch a small fortune for Guatemalan middle men, the raid on Casa Quivera offered hope. At first that hope took the form of hoping that her own beloved Baby Esther was among the children of Casa Quivera; when that hope was dashed, it morphed into a more abstract, political one--a hope for the future safety of fellow Guatemalan families and children.
For Guatemalan citizens, the raid on Casa Quivera represents hope that the Guatemalan government might finally be starting to take serious measures to investigate and control an international adoption trade that many Guatemalan citizens have come to feel threatens in a very real way, their own families' and children's safety.
In Guatemala, where 1 of every 100 children born last year was sold in adoption to Americans, the threat can feel—and be—very real.
So real, in fact, that some Guatemalan citizens are beginning to fight back...
There have been an increasing number of cases, especially in small towns in Guatemala, where suspected child traffickers have been beaten or even killed--by lynching or being burned alive--by angry mobs seeking to protect themselves and their children from becoming victims of the child trade.
"We are not animals to be bought and sold," [Ana Escobar] says, clutching [her stolen baby] Esther's photo.For American adoption agencies whose posture in this increasingly difficult situation seems to be to deny all wrongdoing and declare that reports of corruption are simply “political” and/or a figment of the imaginations of the ever-present forces of evil—those “anti-adoption” activists who would groundlessly, needlessly and coldly deny homes to worthy orphans around the world and a livelihood to themselves, the Casa Quivera situation has become yet another thorn in the side—a harbinger of the even more troubled days ahead for international adoption from Guatemala.
Although many agencies fear an eventual, serious country-wide Guatemalan slow-down or shut-down, the likes of which have taken place in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, or Nepal, still, American adoption agencies plunge ahead, continuing to do business with Guatemalan adoption attorneys who can supply them with the ever-in-demand-healthy-young-paper-adoptable-infants ….and continuing to offer referrals to American adoptive parents--adoptive parents, who are assured of the fact that they are giving needed homes to the legitimate orphans of Guatemala. Parents who are assured that the reports of corruption are unfounded (and certainly don't involve their own agencies or its suppliers).
De ja vu... I seem to recall similar assurances from our agency before we adopted our stolen children.
"The activity is driven largely by surging US demand. With adoption in the U.S. still a bureaucratic nightmare and with few babies available in distant places like China and Eastern Europe, Guatemala has become an increasingly popular source for U.S. couples. Almost 5,000 babies were adopted last year from [Guatemala, a] nation of 13 million--the world's highest per capita adoption rate--and 95% of them went to the U.S. Since 1990, in fact, more than 25,000 Guatemalan children have been placed in American homes."Despite agency reassurances, some adoptive parents have already been caught up in corruption related problems in Guatemala. Having already paid their money and accepted their Guatemalan referrals, many have experienced various administrative delays in "bringing their [Guatemalan] children 'home'," as the U.S. and Guatemalan governments have put additional checks and system-wide controls in place to try to stem fraud and corruption.
--from the Time Online article listed below
As for the perspective of adoptive parents caught in the midst of slow-downs---this is the favorite stuff of American media adoption coverage. Parents who have spent their life savings plus more, cast their lots with an agency that promised smooth sailing, became emotionally attached to referred children, and who are now left with empty wallets, empty cribs, empty promises, and broken dreams--the disappointment and heartache of these parents is real and understandable.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, [Ann]Roth had been waiting with her husband David to adopt a boy and a girl from Casa Quivera--but now, after having paid half the $30,000 fee, she finds everything in a precarious state of limbo. "I feel, says Ann, 37, "like someone has kicked me in the stomach ten times."What has not been so prevalent in the American media and which makes the Time article stand out as different--perhaps a harbinger of change for the American media, in a way similar to the way that Casa Quivera is a harbinger of hope to Guatemalans citizens worried about losing their children--is its willingness to look at:
- the perspective of other international adoption stakeholders, including the Guatemalan people and those who have been the victims of corruption
- the "big picture" reasons for Guatemalan adoption problems
[The]feeling, which more and more Guatemalan mothers and adoptive mothers in the U.S., are experiencing these days, reflects the growing awareness that adoption Guatemala is all too often a multi-million-dollar underworld trade. The nation's ill-regulated adoption business, run by private lawyers and notaries, is rife with corruption, including forged paperwork, payoffs to women who agree to hand over their children and, in some cases, newborns stolen from hospitals or mothers' arms, according to the government human rights ombudsman's office. One U.S. couple spent almost two years and $50,000 to find out later that her biological mother "was essentially a baby factory" who had sold many of her eight children to a dealer, says the adoptive father. "It felt dirty, like we were involved in a child brokering deal."From all accounts, including those of the American government, the Guatemalan adoption trade has indeed become a "dirty" one. Still, American agencies doggedly continue to convey children in adoption from Guatemala to the U.S. even amidst such overwhelming evidence of corruption.
Agencies don't seem to see--or rather, perhaps don't want to see--the bigger picture; remarkably they apparently see nothing but unfounded and irrational fear and anti-adoption hysteria.
"Florida resident Clifford Phillips, who runs Casa Quivera with his Guatemalan wife, insists they're victims of the spreading anti-adoption hysteria and persecution. 'This [this hysteria and persecution] is an injustice that needs to be stopped now.'"Injustice?
Myopic American agencies apparently accept no responsibility for the climate they've created in Guatemala; for the fact that they and their Guatemalan agents have made Guatemalan children pricey commodities, the procurement of which can make Guatemalan middle men into rich men overnight. Agencies see only individual orphans whom they faithfully believe were legitimately relinquished and who are "in need" of homes. Publicly they "see" only their humanitarian good deeds in "finding" these children homes.
Calls from Guatemalan citizens and Guatemalan government officials for an end to their country, their citizens, and their children being ravaged by the international adoption trade fall on agency ears that hear only meaningless, unfounded "political motivations."
Things will certainly get worse in Guatemala before they get better--for everyone concerned. Already, the US and Guatemala are working on implementation of Hague regulation (due to go into effect on January 1, 2007).
Guatemalan press reports allege that child-traffickers are stepping up their efforts to procure children for international adoption and get them processed before the new regulations take effect.
This alleged step-up in the illegal acquisition of children will doubtless cause more suffering for Guatemalan mothers and families.
According to press reports, reports of the alleged step-up in illegal procurements has already caused Guatemalan citizens to be more aggressive in protecting themselves against child traffickers and has led to more mob violence.
It will doubtless also lead to American adoptive parents being further cautioned to be careful as they travel to and in Guatemala to claim their adoptive children. Already the press has reported that at least one traveling adoptive couple was attacked for their adoptive activities while in Guatemala.
As the governments of both countries clamp down in an effort to convince the citizens of Guatemala that someone is watching, that someone cares, and that it is not simply open season on Guatemalan children, there will doubtless be more orphanage raids and additional layers of administrative procedures to control corruption. It already seems that each new layer is simply another layer to be circumvented; every circumvention needs its own new layer of protection.
These added layers of safeguards will result in more children being caught up in investigations and in more delays in homecomings.
Some safeguards may even result in some children never being permitted to leave Guatemala.
According to some perspectives, this may be a good thing. According to these people, trade in children from Guatemala needs to slow or even come to a stop.
Certainly most would agree that some individual children should not be permitted to leave Guatemala--children like Ana Escobar's Esther.
"I won't give up until I find my daughter, says Escobar. "There are a lot of people who adopt children without really knowing if the mother wanted to give them up or if they were stolen. Without knowing if the mother is suffering."The real question is, does anyone--adoptive parents looking at their referral photos, adoptive parents gazing on the longed-for child sleeping in their arms, the American agency who has stayed in business another year and been honored for their humanitarian work, the US government that has responded to the demands of a vocal voters that demand that adoption remain open despite problems--ANYONE--care about the grief of a Guatemalan mother?
And if they do care, what are they willing to do about it?
As a mother who has indeed cradled in her arms children stolen from a Third World mother, I say, you'd better hope that you care.
Care or not care, eventually there *will* be a day of reckoning. Guatemalan adoptive children will someday no longer be cuddly infants and toddlers, but a new, very large generation of adult adoptees, full of questions about the reported injustices that brought them to their families. You have but a few years to come up with your answers, for children grow quickly into independent adults.
I hope that your answers are good ones.
There is, in the end, nothing more awful than looking your adoptive son or daughter in the eye and having to give them an accounting for their adoption. (except maybe having to do that with their birthmother from whom they were stolen and who has mourned long years for them)
There are no adequate excuses.
Only apologies and guilt and sorrow for the pain that you, in your ignorance and gullibility, caused another human being.
Cleaning Up International Adoption, Time online, 29 Aug 2007
and its reprint at Yahoo News.com:
Cleaning Up International Adoptions, Yahoo! News, 31 Aug 2007
To read fleasbiting blogposts about Guatemalan adoption: Fleasbiting Blogposts about Guatemalan Adoption