' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Guatemalan Army Stole Kids for Adoption

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guatemalan Army Stole Kids for Adoption

Over the weekend CNN reported "Guatemalan Army Stole Kids for Adoption," a story that cannot go unnoticed here at Birth Mother/First Mother Forum because apparently the corruption in Guatemalan adoption is much worse than reported earlier:
"The Guatemalan army stole at least 333 children and sold them for adoption in other countries during the Central American nation's 36-year civil war, a government report has concluded. Many of those children ended up in the United States, as well as Sweden, Italy and France, said the report's author and lead investigator.

"In some cases, the report stated, the parents were killed so the children could be taken and given to government-sponsored agencies to be adopted abroad. In other instances, the children were abducted without physical harm to the parents."
The number of corrupt adoptions--333--involving stolen children in the government report came from examining a mere 672 adoptions between between 1977-89, the time of peak adoptions from that country. Those numbers mean that roughly half of all adoptions examined during that period involved stolen children sold through state-run agencies. So the 333 number has got to be the mere tip of the iceberg. During the country's protracted civil war, about 45,000 people disappeared from 1960 to 1996, about 5,000 of which were children.

The story also noted that Guatemala has the world's highest per capita rate of adoption and was one of the leading providers of adoptive children for the United States: "Nearly one in 100 babies born in Guatemala end up with adoptive parents in the United States, according to the U.S. consulate in Guatemala. As we reported earlier on E. J. Graff's piece in Foreign Policy, many, if not nearly all, adoptions from poor nations are suspect.

Guatemalan adoptions can cost up to $30,000, providing a large financial incentive in a country where the World Bank says about 75 percent of the people live below the poverty level. The report concludes that the lawyers and notaries who were the middlemen for this human trafficking (yes, it is human trafficking) were the driving force for the babies stolen from their parents. Many induced the women to give up their babies, or simply paid soldiers for product, i.e., a baby--because they knew they had a place to market the kid.

While those who push international adoption decry when this kind of baby-selling is called trafficking--they want it only to refer to the sex market--they are kidding themselves. Taking children for filthy lucre is trafficking in human flesh, period. They just don't want to see themselves as baby sellers, promoters of baby selling, or human traffickers, but that is what they are.

Okay, we have known this has gone on for a long time. We've written about corruption in international adoption several times before, including here and here. But you know what is the most amazing thing about this sickening report?

How little attention it has gotten in the United States. Where most of those stolen babies have ended up.

My husband says it was on the AOL story board on Saturday, but only for a couple of hours. A Googgle search seems to indicate that the news reports on what should scare of bejeesus out of all adoptive parents who have children from abroad were scant. CNN, Reuters, UPI wrote brief stories, but the report has largely disappeared from the public consciousness here in America--everyone is more interested in what will happen to foul-mouthed Serena Williams after her bad behavior at the U.S. Open this weekend.

Why? Call me crazy, but it's because we here in the country where these kids are sold into DO NOT WANT TO HEAR THEY MAY HAVE A STOLEN CHILD. I guess I wouldn't either, but how long is the world going to be deaf to what is happening? I still know people who are looking into international adoption.

Are the folks at the Holt International Agency doing a review of the Guatemalan adoptions they processed? Is international adopter and promoter Elizabeth Bartholet rethinking her position that all international adoptions are good ones because children are not raised in poverty, but in countries where people are wealthy enough to buy somebody else's baby? Are there going to be more conferences promoting international adoption such as the one at New York University earlier this year?

Guatemala has suspended all adoptions, but here's what you get at the Christian World Adoption website:
Guatemala Adoption

CWA is hopeful and optimistic that one day the precious children of Guatemala will again have a chance to unite with a forever family through international adoption. Due to the continuing issues with Hague Treaty requirements, Guatemala adoption is not possible at this time, and there is no way to know when it might be possible. We continue to monitor the situation, and we continue to pray for the waiting children.

Can these people be stopped? Do they never learn? We are, quite simply, sick at heart. Real forever families are waiting all over the world to be reunited with their stolen children. We grieve for the mothers.--lorraine
The Heart to Heart retreat over the weekend in Boston was a wonderful, enriching experience. I want to thank everyone who was there for making it so. Report coming soon.


  1. No, no, no. You must have this all wrong. So many people who adopt from Guatemala say these are all fabrications. The media doesn't have all the right information see? They would never BUY a stolen baby. Are you kidding?
    We all just need to trust the agencies and baby brokers and know that Guatemala is a-ok on adoption.
    Who care about research? Who cares about facts. There are too many U.S. couples who need a kid to cuddle darnit!

    Seriously, I wonder how many Guatemala adopters will read this and look the other way because all i see from most of them on the internets is deny, deny, deny.

    I look forward to seeing the comments here.

  2. I have an anecdotal story that is only somewhat related but maybe highlights something...I have a close friend who grew up in El Salvador way, way out in the country...sometime in the early 1970s a couple who were believed to be German (as my friend's mom tells the story) came to the farming community and offered to buy one of their children..the one they wanted was in all seriousness a very very cute baby, their arguement was, "you have so many to feed, give us this one and you will have money for the rest." Naturally it was no deal, and since they were farmers and could provide for themselves they weren't as hard pressed to even consider such an evil deal. The locals warned each other, and the couple moved on... BTW Forty years later, the entire family of 11+ new additions are all doing great for themselves in L.A. They still tease Jose about the people who wanted to buy him.
    In a second story from Latin America....I know of someone distantly through acquaintances-but these details are true-who in the course of 3 months was able to go from the first idea of wanting a baby to having one from Honduras (this was shortly after one of their big Hurricanes). She flew down, talked to a few people and flew back with the child. I have no idea about paperwork or what ever stories were told at the border. I'm sure it helped that the baby-taker was herself Honduran, but still... The baby's mother is alive and received installments.
    Third true story and then I'll stop typing...pre 9-11 security at the San Diego border was not tight. I know of a legal immigrant (a housewife actually) who in the 1980s took illegal immigrants across the border on a regular basis to work in a tortilla factory. Of the dozens/zillions of times she crossed with people hiding, she was busted 16 times and never spent one moment in jail, or had one single punishment to make her stop. She just got old and tired of smuggling. My point is how easy it was pre 9-ll to get people into the country, make documentation, whatever. BTW I love immigrants-all of 'em but cynicism on the ease with which humans can or could get moved about is in order. Anyone considering international adoption does need a cold splash of reality. It is easy to see how economic conditions creates this. It is no longer any sort of secret to Guatemalan women who are on the watch for baby thieves. I read advisories about 5 years ago when traveling in the Central American highlands not to pay any attention to children because people are wary and basically enraged that this has in fact happened and the local communities know the children were stolen, it is fact for them, the same way genocide during the war was fact. Add it to the list of all the other things U.S. news doesn't cover.

  3. Having spent time in Guatemala over the past few years, I can testify that the system of corruption is still strong when it come to the abuse of human life. After the genocide that was called a civil war, only two people have been brought to justice. Impunity is alive and well and it is pathetic and scary. The depth of abuse of the indigenous peoples is certainly a modern day slavery and it is heart breaking to see.
    I am disturbed by the lack of sustained media coverage to what is happening in our hemispheric backyard. Further, it seems few people were informed or know much of the genocide that took place there over a period of 35 years - 200,000 indigenous killed and 40,000 disappeared. A fairly major news item in my opinion.
    Mothers and children seem to be the one's who suffer most in armed conflicts. What has happened in Guatemala and what is now happening unfortunately confirms it.

  4. I've thought that where there are home-births, and no birth-certificates the baby laundering becomes that much easier.
    I totally envision a day maybe soon but more likely in about 25 years when some one with some funds gets dna samples from the women missing children, sets up a database, and leaves a way for adoptees to search. Things like this always come to light especially for the adoptees who begin a search. Brick walls don't stop some! I'm from the 1960s baby scoop era, and I would say I am only mildly disgruntled compared to how I would feel coming from this international baby steal era. They will always have to wonder if they were stolen and even the best case scenario drives home the economic coercion tacit in most adoptions -- The statistics on child theft are simply too high to be ignored as a possibility, meaning it becomes everyone's burden. Today's international adoptees are beneficiaries of the electronic era and the college education they are statistically likely to receive... WAIT FOR THE BACKLASH... there will be one!

  5. As an adoptive parent of a Guatemalan child I will say that the truth lies somewhere in between. Yes, there were corrupt adoptions - no, not all of them were corrupt.
    Head down to Guatemala and check out some of the orphanages and children living on the streets and then tell me these children are better off there than with a family in the US or another country. Read about the economy there and the lack of hope for these children.
    The adoption process there needed reform, but intercountryy adoption is not always corrupt and the option needs to remain open.

  6. The truth lies somewhere in between? The report--by their own government--states that approximately half of the adoptions investigated were the result of stealing a child or killing the parents to take the child.

    Yes, there is poverty in the world and some children are better off in a family that can care for them but...tell me, how would you feel if a child you gave birth to was stolen and sold for a couple of hundred dollars to a corrupt middleman and then repurposed (as a fresh baby needing a home) to a wealthy family--wealthy by the standards of the child's culture? Would you still say, the truth "lies somewhere in between?" This is human trafficking, and it is the result of the demand for babies in the US and elsewhere.

    Perhaps you need to clarify your language.

  7. Lisa,

    No doubt not ALL Guatemalan adoptions were corrupt. That would be a difficult feat for any villains to pull off, and given the war and turmoil in that country there must be some true orphans who really needed homes, and some honest facilitators.

    From all the information coming out of Guatemala, though, it does look like an awful lot of adoptions were corrupt, crooked, questionable, and a good number were the result of actual kidnapping. That is not a metaphor for subtle pressure, when your child is taken at gunpoint.

    As the adoptive mother of a child from this country, it behooves you to look further into this shameful situation, not shut your eyes and say "not me, not my kid."

    If you did not know the details of how your child was obtained, or were lied to which is very likely, it is not your fault. But now that you do know that some very bad things were done, maybe you should look into what happened in your own case, for the sake of your child. Maybe you can find the birth family and find out what really happened. Maybe you can work out some kind of connection where your child will not lose you, or his family in Guatemala forever. Or maybe you will have the peace of mind of knowing that your adoption really was not one of the corrupt ones. You won't know if you refuse to find out.

    This is a heartbreaking situation for all, but pretending it did not happen or happened very infrequently is not realistic or fair in the face of mounting evidence of widespread corruption of adoption practice in that country.

  8. Unfortunately, the demand for babies only emboldens the "orphan manufacturing chain," as E, J. Graff describes it. There's no getting around that. The norm should be to assume the worst.

    I'll tell you one thing that makes it better, though, aside from long-term social justice solutions we all need to be part of: putting your head up and figuring out where your child really came from. BTW, your daughter is beautiful, Lisa, but she will ask questions one day.

  9. See what I mean. Lisa needs her a baby! She has to believe that what happened in Guatemala is an exception instead of the truth. Never mind what the truth actually is. To believe anything other than her fragile lie would make her an accessory to something nasty.

    And she can't go there.

    Since Lisa seems to be so concerned with the children of Guatemala living their lives in orphanages or on the streets, I wonder what she has actually done to improve life for these many downtrodden children other than bringing ONE into her home to raise as her own.

    There are ways to help these children other than contributing to the madness and taking them from their homeland.

    Adoption is not nor will it ever be the answer to poverty.

  10. I'm not surprised at the vehemence of the attacks on my comment. Most of you have an agenda: end adoption. That's fine - I just don't agree.

    Now some responses to some of the comments - some I will not grace with a response:

    1. Don't assume I haven't done a search for the birth parents. There are thousands of parents of Guatemalan born children who have and have contact and actually help those families out.
    2. Don't assume that I'm ignorant of what is going on - actually I'm more informed than most.
    3. Don't assume that I don't send money to Guatemala. Most of us send money and pay tuition for Guatemalan children to go to school.
    4. Don't assume that you are speaking for the birthmothers of Guatemala who placed their children for adoption - you are not. You do not understand their lives, their culture or their decisions.

  11. We will not be posting more comments continuing this argument.

    But accusing one side of having an "agenda" does not seem to further the discourse. A point of view, prima facia, is an "agenda." And everyone posting here might be accused of that.

    If anyone has anything new to say, that is different.

  12. Just for the record, my agenda has never been to end adoption. Ending hypocrisy, yes. Ending selfish acts in the name of charity, absolutely.
    Adoption is what it is but we are talking about *stolen* babies here and it seems sad to me that the people who are driving the market, the people who could truly END this madness by demanding ethical treatment for these poor kids are the ones who refuse to acknowledge the truth when it is presented in terms of black and white.
    Very sad and very disgusting.

  13. I think you are fantastic for highlighting this story. It scares me how adoptive parents can easily deny what is going on.
    Guatemala closed to Irish adopters ( where I live ) last year and this year Vietnam closed.
    If you do a search for My Linh soland you will see what happened in 2005 -2006, last week yet another story proving that baby brookers are in operation in Vietnam was published. Take a read of the adoption boards at www.rollercoaster.ie and see how people are denying this and demanding vietnam be reopened.
    Keep up the good work

  14. Thank you for highlighting this story. This is the side of international adoption that must be stopped first and foremost. It is shameful that the US took forever to implement the Hague Convention, and more shameful that it permits adoption to continue from countries that have not.

    Hague protections are only a first step though. I will not condemn international adoption as a whole, but I will condemn any person who enters into it without extreme diligence and a commitment to critically examine every circumstance that accompanies it.

  15. Wow I am adopted child from guatemale and this story really taught me things thank you xx

  16. Anonymous:

    Thank you for commenting here. the world needs to know the true story about international adoption. There is much more:

    The Child Catchers exposes the stench of international adoption--and domestic adoption too

  17. I am one of the kids that was sent to an orphanage during th war in Guatemala in 1980. I am currently looking for my birth parents. Can some one help me and guide me of where to start. Please

  18. I am one of the kids that was sent to an orphanage during the war of 1980 in Guatemala. I am currently looking for my birth parents. Can someone help me please or guide me. Thank you



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