Adoption Changes Wrench American Parents

Olga R. Rodriguez, AP, November 20, 2007

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The Kerrs are among thousands of Americans trying to adopt 3,700 babies who are caught in limbo as Guatemala’s lawmakers debate new rules that could all but shut down a largely unregulated system that has become the speediest place in the world to finalize an adoption.

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As early as this week, the legislature is expected to debate new rules to eliminate potential fraud in Guatemala’s adoption process, which until now has been run from beginning to end by notaries who work with birth mothers, determine if babies were surrendered willingly, hire foster mothers and handle all the paperwork.

These notaries charge an average of $30,000 for children delivered in about nine months—record time for international adoptions. The process is so quick that one in every 100 Guatemalan children now grow up as an adopted American.

The small Central American country sent 4,135 children to the U.S. last year, making it the largest source of babies for American families after much-bigger China.

The adoptions are a $100 million a year industry for notaries.

But the system violates The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions, a treaty designed to prevent fraudulent adoptions. Both Guatemala and the United States have agreed to observe the treaty starting next year. Among other things, a government agency must oversee the process and determine if the child was legally surrendered by the birth mother.

Most agree the new rules will reduce the number of Guatemalan adoptions because the government doesn’t have the resources to manage all the cases that notaries have handled and because of extra inspections intended to guarantee that each child is being given up willingly.

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But scrutiny of the pending adoptions has turned up problems in about 1,000 cases, said Victor Mejicanos, a federal official who oversees adoptions.

“We have everything from altered birth certificates to birth mothers who change their minds and want their babies back,” Mejicanos said.

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Would-be parents have been lobbying U.S. lawmakers with letters and phone calls asking them to pressure Guatemala to allow pending adoptions to be completed under current rules. Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota, is visiting Guatemala this week to check on the progress of those requests.

The notary system has made it easy for scam artists to coerce women into selling their babies and in some cases, put stolen babies up for adoption, critics say. This week, women who say their children were stolen for adoption pushed empty baby carriages and set up empty cribs outside the attorney general’s Office, complaining that prosecutors weren’t doing enough.

The Guatemalan government says it will allow all pending adoptions to move forward, but only after the government adoption agency confirms each child was willingly given up and the child passes a second DNA test now required by the U.S. Embassy.

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