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Guatemalan Adoption Laws -

NEWS - Guatemala Has Stopped Taking Applications from Americans


International adoptions have made plenty of headlines lately, thanks mostly to cases involving celebrities such as Madonna and Angelina Jolie. However, international adoption has been around for many years. Different countries have different ways of regulating adoptions. Guatemala is often listed as having "corruption prone" adoptions.

There is, in all probability, some corruption in the Guatemalan model, but it is likely no worse there than in any other country, including our own. Because of the lack of a large middle class, and much racism toward indigenous peoples there, adoptions in-country are very rare — even the Guatemalan president’s daughter adopted from Eastern Europe.

However, Guatemala actually represents the “gold standard” in terms of adoptions and caring for orphaned children. China is implementing a foster care system patterned on Guatemala’s, because children do better with foster parents rather than in orphanages or other institutional settings.

One aspect that needs reform concerns how children become part of the system. Because of the high illiteracy rate in Guatemala, often buscadoras, or finders, are used to locate women who will relinquish their children for adoption. These finders are unregulated, and some are far from ethical. They need to be licensed and regulated by Guatemalan courts.

Guatemala’s adoption process is clearly delineated: After a successful home study and police and FBI background check, you get a spot on a waiting list with an agency, which may work with one or more attorneys who handle adoptions. Women relinquish care of their babies to attorneys, who then put them in private foster care or private hogars, or orphanages.

Many hogars operate with a high ratio of caregivers and provide excellent care; some fall well short of excellence. Prospective parents wait to receive a referral (a child available for adoption.) After the parents accept the referral, the adoption go to Family Court. A social worker interviews the birth mother and foster mother and reviews the homestudy of the prospective parents. After court approval, the matter is referred to the attorney general’s office for a stringent review. They will kick out a case (issue a previo) even for a misspelled word. Sometimes, there is a real problem (such as an underage birth mother), but in the majority of cases, it is a simple misspelled word, an expired notary seal or other minor issue. The attorney gets the document corrected, resubmits it and the review begins anew. The steps are long and arduous — ask any of the parents who have been awaiting a final determination for months.

At any point in this process, up to her final sign-off, the biological mother can change her mind and take her child back. The most common time for this to happen is at the DNA test, which is usually the first time the biological mother has seen the child since she relinquished him or her.
A DNA test is required to establish that the woman relinquishing the child is indeed the biological mother and the child wasn’t stolen.

When our first referred child was DNA-tested, results showed that she was no biological kin to the woman who said she was her mother. The woman had hospital records ‘proving’ she gave birth to a baby girl the same age as this one. What happened? We don’t know and we won’t ever know. We tried to find out — we’d held that baby girl and loved her, and will always have a place in our hearts for her — but once the DNA test did not match, the Department of Minors took little Flor de Maria from her foster home, put her in an orphanage, halted the adoption and turned the "mother" over to the authorities.

When I hear stories of people adopting Eastern European children being told to bring up to $10,000 in crisp new bills to give to their facilitator once they land (with no knowledge of to whom this money is going), I wonder how the United States can be trying to push Guatemala toward a similar system.

People often will look at our daughter and ask, “How could her mother have given her away”? I always think of the story in the Bible about the two women, both claiming to be the mother. When the king said he’d solve the problem by cutting the child in half, the biological mother said that the other woman could have the baby, giving up her rights, to guarantee that her child could live. That is pretty much what anyone relinquishing a child for adoption goes through, I think. It is a huge loss for the mother, but, it is hoped, one made with love and with the wish for that child to have the best life possible, one that the biological parents cannot give, for whatever reason. In our country, most children available for adoption are relinquished because the parents aren’t ready to be parents.

In Guatemala, bone-crushing poverty is by far the most common motivation. About 75 to 80 percent of the people live in poverty, many in extreme poverty, and 21 percent of the people in Guatemala live on less than $1 a day. They have one of the highest fertility rates in the Americas and also one of the highest under 5 mortality rates. Illiteracy is rampant and education is expensive and out of reach of many. Clean water is a dream of which many are not even aware. Easily prevented diseases kill babies and children because of a lack of medical care. With adoption, mothers are able to dream for their children. They can dream of a better life for their children, a life where their children won’t be endangered by drinking the water, where their children have a chance at education, medical care and a safe environment.

We met our daughter’s birth mother this past summer, five years after she relinquished our child. Over and over, she told us how happy she was for the opportunities that our daughter will have in the United States, opportunities her other daughters still in Guatemala cannot imagine. When we sent a letter and photos to her last spring, she said she thanked God for us letting her know. When we met this past summer, she said it was something she had not dared even dream– that she would ever see her child again. I think that her knowing how our daughter is doing gave her great peace of mind. Because of her biological mother”s generosity and love, our daughter has the chance to reach her full potential.

It isn’t our place to say that people “should” or “shouldn’t” relinquish their children for adoption, but if it is their wish to provide more than they can themselves, it should remain their right. For many in Guatemala, it is their only hope.

We know first-hand that Guatemala has laws and that they work. Whatever the faults of the system, there are other problems I believe to be more pressing (slavery, medical needs and grinding poverty) that need to be addressed. U.S. policy shouldn't get between innocent children and opportunity.

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