Corruption in international adoptions

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News Reports of Adoption
 Irregularities in Guatemala

Below is a sampling of news articles and broadcasts that have reported on corrupt practices in Guatemalan adoptions, with very brief summaries of each one's contents. This is not an exhaustive list. Even this partial list, however, makes clear that many different news outlets have drawn from a wide variety of sources in reporting on baby-buying, coercion, abductions, and profiteering in Guatemalan adoptions.

"Denuncian método ilegal de adopciones," Sandra Valdez, January 31, 2012, PrensaLibra.com.

"CNA's announcement of a Two-year Limited Pilot Program," Adoption Alert for Guatemala, Intercountry Adoption, U.S. Department of State.

"Guatemala: A baby factory no longer?," Ezra Fieser, December 23, 2009, GlobalPost.

A review of Guatemala's history of international adoption, their new adoption rule, and its possible effects.

"Guatemala Pushes for DNA Tests of Kids Adopted in U.S.," Sarah Grainger, December 8, 2009, ABC News.

Olga Lopez, along with two other mothers who believe their children were stolen and put up for U.S. adoption, have pushed Guatemala to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to track down their babies they believe were adopted to the U.S. and give them DNA tests so they can be returned. So far there has been no response from U.S. authorities, Lopez says. U.S. officials would not confirm they had received a formal request from Guatemala. 

PEAR update: Guatemala Pilot Program, December 8, 2009.

We have read both the JCICS' and Ethica's statements and agree that prospective adoptive parents should not attempt to file an I800a for Guatemala at this time.

"Burned by a baby broker," David Shaffer, October 14, 2009, The Star Tribune.

Three cribs stand empty in the unused bedroom of Suann Hibbs' Edina home, and the closet is full of unworn baby clothes. Sad reminders, Hibbs says, of her broken dream of bringing home three orphans from Guatemala to raise as her daughters.

Notice for Guatemala “hogar” adoption cases, September 29, 2009, U.S. Department of State.

In Guatemala, a number of private child care facilities or “hogares” have traditionally provided care for children. Some of these hogars were closely associated with the intercountry adoption process and provided care specifically for children awaiting adoption. Allegations of adoption irregularities have prompted Guatemalan officials to conduct a wide-ranging investigation that has included many of these facilities.

Guatemalan army stole children for adoption, report says,  Arthur Brice contributor, September 12, 2009, CNN.

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.

"CC rechaza impugnación a Ley de Adopciones" (Guatemala Constitutional Court rejects challenge to Law of Adoptions), July 30, 2009, PrensaLibre.com.

La Corte de Constitucionalidad falló en contra de las acciones de inconstitucionalidad planteadas a la Ley de Adopciones promovidas por un grupo de abogados, quienes buscaban anular la patria potestad de los padres luego de la adopción y declarar toda la norma en contra de la ley fundamental.

"Stolen Babies," Bob Abeshouse, June 24, 2009, Al Jazeera English/People and Power.

A Guatemala government investigation into some 3,000 pending adoption cases found fraudulent paperwork in more than 1,000 instances. There is strong evidence that in many cases babies had been stolen before being traded for adoption. Guatemalan mothers whose babies were snatched in this way are convinced that their children are in the U.S. and now they want them back...

"Nine Tots Rescued From Illegal Adoption in Guatemala," April 8, 2009, Latin American Herald Tribune.

Nine children ranging in age from 1 to 5 were rescued in the southern Guatemalan municipality of Palin, officials said. The children, three girls and six boys, were found at a residence operated by Primavera Association, which had no legal permit to operate in the Palin municipality. The house in which they were found reportedly did not meet standards of hygiene. According to the prosecutor, the children were in the process of being adopted out illegally. No arrests were made during the raid because the babysitter was the only adult found there, he said.

"Guatemala: Dirty war orphans put up for adoption," Juan Carlos Llorca, Associated Press, March 23, 2009, Global Report.

Guatemala's government said Monday it has uncovered evidence supporting a long-held belief: Children whose parents were killed during the country's 36-year civil war were put up for adoption.

“To save adopted girl, Calif. couple gives her up,” Juan Carlos Llorca, Associated Press, November 22, 2008, MSNBC.com.

Jennifer and Todd Hemsley, who were in the process of adopting a Guatemalan child when new restrictions on adoptions from that country were put in place, halted the adoption of an orphan girl when they found evidence the DNA sample that supposedly proved relation between the girl and her birth mother had been faked, after seeing other evidence of fraud. Prompted by the Hemsleys, Guatemalan investigators are trying to determine the child’s true identity and have opened a criminal investigation into the people who vouched for her paperwork—from the U.S. adoption agency to Guatemalan notaries, foster parents, a doctor and the laboratory that said it collected the girl's DNA. Dr. Aida Gutierrez handled the DNA for both Hazel and Esther Sulamita, who was reunited with her mother Ana Escobar this past July. The discovery casts doubt on the DNA-matching process that the US embassy and adoptive parents had relied on to screen out fraud.

"Guatemala seeks domestic fix to troubled overseas adoptions," Oscar Avila, October 26, 2008, Chicago Tribune.

In an effort to reform the corruption involved in adoptions by other countries, Guatemala has begun sending children into foster homes in Guatemala. Progress is slow since Guatemalan culture places a great emphasis upon biological ties being the true ties of family. Guatemala has come under scrutiny for this new change, since many children are now left in deficient institutions because no overseas adoptions are taking place.

"US couple almost adopted stolen Guatemalan baby," Juan Carlos Llorca, Associated Press, July 31, 2008, Huffington Post.

Story of Guatemalan woman Ana Escobar, whose six month old daughter Esther was stolen from her at gunpoint and was missing for 14 months, and was found just weeks before being adopted by an Indiana couple. Authorities issued arrest warrants for a doctor, 2 lawyers, the false birthmother, and foster care mother.

"Guatemalan mother reunited with baby stolen and sold for adoption by US couple," Philip Sherwell, July 27, 2008, Telegraph UK.

News coverage of Ana Escobar, whose baby was stolen from her at gunpoint, found later just before being adopted to the U.S.

"World Briefing: Guatemala: Stolen girl tied to adoption," Associated Press, July 24, 2008, New York Times. 

Ana Escobar is reunited with her daughter Esther after DNA tests prove Esther was stolen.

"Stolen Guatemalan baby found just before adoption by US couple," Associated Press, July 24, 2008, Fox News.

Adoption officials said that DNA tests indicate a Guatemalan baby reported stolen from her mother Ana Escobar was being adopted by a U.S. couple, the first strong sign that the Central American nation's troubled adoption system relied in part on abducted children.

"My baby was stolen," July 24, 2008, BBC News.

Ana Escobar and Ulga Angelica Lopez tell their stories of loss to BBC reporters. In response to the reports of stolen babies, the director of the section of the Guatemalan Solicitor General Office that reviews adoptions said that he did not believe there were any problems with Guatemalan adoptions, except that the process needed more regulation.

"DNA tests provide first confirmation of stolen baby in troubled Guatemalan adoption system," Associated Press, July 23, 2008, International Herald Tribune.

News coverage of Ana Escobar, who found her kidnapped baby just before the child was adopted to the U.S. Jaime Tecu, director of a team of experts reviewing all pending Guatemalan adoptions, said that "This is the first time that we've been able to show, with irrefutable evidence, that a stolen child was put up for adoption."

"US Adoptions fueled by Guatemalan kidnappings: Demand for Guatemalan children is so high, baby snatching is rampant," Haroldo Martinez and Russell Goldman, May 13, 2008, ABC News.

Recounts the story of Guatemalan Raquel Par, who was drugged on a bus and woke to find her baby girl missing, and was later found adopted by a U.S. family. Article says Guatemala's international adoptions are a $100 million industry, making orphans the country's second-most lucrative export after bananas.

"Guatemala halts foreign adoptions," May 6, 2008, BBC.

Guatemala's attorney general announces that pending adoptions have been placed on hold for at least a month while officials review paperwork. Additional DNA testing could be required to ensure babies were being given up by their actual birthmother and not corrupt intermediaries.

"Mothers continue the search for their child," Lorena Seijo, March 3, 2008, Prensa Libre.

Mothers whose children have been stolen spend their days looking through orphanages and daycare centers to see if their children are being processed for international adoption. According to the Foundation for Survivors, of the 3,000 children that are waiting to leave Guatemala through the adoption market, 500 could have been kidnapped in the last year. The Foundation offers legal and psychological help to mothers and requests DNA tests on their behalf.

"To catch a baby broker," transcript, Victoria Corderi, January 20, 2008, Dateline NBC.

Transcript from Dateline NBC hidden camera investigation of corruption in adoption from Guatemala. Hopeful U.S. adoptive couple discovers that their would-be daughter and her sisters were kidnapped and beaten into remembering new identities so they could be sold for adoption.

"Kidnapped kids reunite with family in Guatemala," Benita Noel, January 17, 2008, MSNBC Dateline.

Benita Noel, Dateline producer, writes about witnessing the reunion of two kidnapped little girls with their family. They had been kidnapped from their home, abused, and almost adopted.

"In pictures: Guatemalan children's home," 2007, BBC News.

Photo gallery of the Asociacion Primavera, a children’s home tucked behind a high brick wall topped with razor wire in Guatemala City’s affluent Zona 10.

"'I was made to give up my daughter'," December 18, 2007, BBC News.

Luisa*, 16, is living with her one-year-old daughter in a home for young mothers in Guatemala City run by Casa Alianza, a non-profit organisation which helps children living on the streets and vulnerable teenagers.

"'I had nothing to give my child'," December 18, 2007, BBC News.

Rosa-Maria Mendizabal, 34, from Guatemala City, gave up her daughter for adoption seven years ago because she had no means to support her - but prays to see her again one day.

"Guatemala adoptions: a baby trade?" Laura Smith-Spark, December 17, 2007, BBC News.

Poverty and lack of access to birth control contribute to a high birth rate in Guatemala. Article says that US families anxious to give a child a better life are ready to pay $30,000 to complete an adoption. Up to $20,000 goes to lawyers and notaries in a process largely unregulated by central government. Supporters and critics of Guatemala's recent bill bringing the country in accordance with the Hague treaty disagree on effects.

"US Families Race to Adopt from Guatemala," Marydale Claire, Associated Press, December 12, 2007.

As the US and Guatemala both near the 2008 deadlines for complying with the Hague treaty, couples are racing to complete their adoptions. Guatemala is currently the second-largest source of adopted children for Americans with 4,700 adoptions this year, but that number is expected to decline sharply. Tighter regulations will cause adoptions to be processed in family courts rather than by notaries, but the courts are not prepared to handle the amount of adoptions each year.

"World BriefingThe Americas; Guatemala: US adoptions to go through," Marc Lacey, December 12, 2007, New York Times.

New law will allow thousands of pending adoptions to go through, but is said to end what critics called a largely unregulated business in which poor mothers were paid to turn over their children to American couples. New law also creates a governmental authority to handle future adoptions, bringing Guatemala in line with the Hague Convention.

"Adoption Insights: Lives in Limbo. Families impacted by Legal & Political Issues in Guatemala," Marguerite Paolino, December 2007, Bay State Parent.

Story of the Beatrice family, which is hoping to adopt their second child from Guatemala. They are concerned that changes to Guatemalan adoption system would freeze the process and they, along with many of the 3,000-5,000 Americans who adopt from Guatemala annually, are pushing to finalize adoptions before the end of 2007.

"Did I Steal My Daughter? The Tribulations of Global Adoption," Elizabeth Larsen, December 2007, Mother Jones.

Background information on adoption practices and the process in Guatemala. Tells the story of the author's adoption from Guatemala, and her urge to contact her child's birth mother and the ensuing reunion.

"Inside Guatemala's adoption pipeline," Oscar Avila, November 11, 2007, Chicago Tribune.

Due to pressure from around the world, Guatemala's Congress is working on a law to add oversight and transparency to its adoptions. Debate over the issue has been passionate: officials want to weed out corruption while pro-adoption lobbies want to keep children from homelessness.

"Looking for their children's birth mothers," Maggie Jones, October 28, 2007, New York Times.

One adoptive mother discusses the moral dilemma and difficulty of trying to locate her daughter's birth parents in Guatemala. Article says that in many big sending countries, an industry of  “searchers”—people who try to locate birth parents—has emerged.

"PGN denounces lawyer Luarca," (Spanish with English translation,) Olga Lopez Ovando, Prensa Libre, October 20, 2007, Pound Pup Legacy.

The PGN (Procuraduría General de la Nación) denounced lawyer Susana Luarca Saracho for allegedly trying to steal an 11 month old girl. The girl's parents said they were forced to give up their baby because they had received money from Luarca, who threatened them with violence when they did not want to give her their child.

"Guatemala needs to account for irregularities in adoptions of little boys and girls," October 15, 2007, Casa Alianza Latinoamerica.

NGO report (in Spanish) about worrying irregularities in the adoption of Guatemalan children abroad, including findings that the business of adoption has caused the kidnapping of 230 children.

"Guatemala seeks to slow exodus of babies to US," Harris Whitbeck and Rose Arce, October 4, 2007, CNN.

Reports on Guatemala's intention to place intercountry adoptions on hold. Notes that U.S. and Guatemalan officials say large sums of money combined with regulatory gaps may be having unintended consequences, since an estimated 80 percent of the population lives in poverty.

"Guatemala's child-snatching plague," Philip Sherwell, September 4, 2007, Sunday Telegraph UK.
Reports on corruption in the Guatemalan adoption industry. “One in 100 Guatemalan children grows up in the US. The Central American country has the highest rate of international adoptions per head of any country in the world, and babies come high on the list of foreign currency earnersjust below bananas…. Most alarmingly, there are reports of child-snatching rings operating in rural areas and "baby farming" by impoverished young women. In June, the United Nations urged Guatemala to suspend all adoptions in an effort to clamp down on what it called a "corrupt" trade, where lawyers pay mothers for newborn babies.” Includes a picture of Ana Escobar holding a snapshot of her daughter Esther. "I'm never going to give up looking for her, but my mother's instinct tells me that she has already been sold for adoption," she said sadly. “Ms Escobar was able to identify the gunman from police mugshots, but he has never been arrested and she now fears for her own safety. She is living in hiding with relatives and met The Sunday Telegraph in the anonymous safety of a shopping mall coffee shop.”
“Cleaning up International Adoptions,” Mica Rosenberg, August 29, 2007, Time.
Report on a government raid on Casa Quivira, a private “foster home” operated by Clifford Phillips, a Florida-based an international adoption lawyer being investigated for baby trafficking. Forty-six children were taken into custody by officials because the home failed to issue the proper paperwork for adoptions. The article relates the story of Ana Escobar, whose child was kidnapped, as she comes to the home to look for her daughter, and Ann Roth, an American hoping to adopt a child from the home. The article includes information about child-snatching in Guatemala and what the Guatemalan and American governments are doing to curb trafficking. Notes “the growing awareness that adoption in Guatemala is all too often a multimillion-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 adopt their Guatemalan daughter, Ella, only 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 almost dirty, like we were involved in a child brokering scheme."

"Inside Story: Guatemala adoption scandal," August 2007, Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera coverage of Guatemalan adoption corruption. It asks: is enough being done to regulate international adoption?

"More about adoptions," Luis Morales Chúa, July 29, 2007, Prensa Libre.

Government officials and experts meet to discuss the problem of child theft for international adoption and to prepare for the January 2008 implementation of the Hague Convention.

"Jonathan, the baby that was stolen from a tortilla stand, found," Luis Angel Sas, July 19, 2007, El Periódico.

Christina Sol was reunited with her son Jonathan after being separated from him for 27 days. False paperwork had been created to prepare him to be adopted internationally. Four people were arrested, including the woman in charge of the child's adoption.

"Child theft: woman suspected," Luis Angel Sas, July 17, 2007, El Periódico.

Tells story of Telma Christina Sol, whose son Jonathan was stolen from her at gunpoint at her family's tortilla stand. One woman, who has a previous arrest for baby stealing, has been identified as the culprit.

"Child theft causes affliction," correspondents, July 12, 2007, Prensa Libre.

Reports that child theft causes violence, and that police inaction forces citizens to take matters into their own hands and arrest, beat, and burn alive purported criminals. Includes many examples of stolen children.

"Women kidnap child in zone 2," Oscar Herrera, June 22, 2007, El Periódico.


Story about the kidnapping of Jonathan Alejandro from his family's tortilla stand.

"World Briefing | Americas: Guatemala: Adoption Protocol Endorsed," Marc Lacey, May 23, 2007, New York Times.

Lawmakers endorsed an international adoption protocol under pressure from the United States, which has said it will cease allowing adoptions from Guatemala unless its largely private system is reformed.

"Adoptions from Guatemala face an uncertain future," Lynette Clemetson, May 16, 2007, New York Times.

Reports that Guatemalan Congress dampened U.S. hopes of an imminent overhaul of its adoption system. Discusses both U.S. and Guatemalan implementations of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.

"Only 1 of 5 children stolen is missing," Julio Lara, March 16, 2007, Prensa Libre.

Four armed individuals tied up nannies at a care center and kidnapped five babies. Four have been found; one is still missing.

"Adoptions in Guatemala face U.S. ban," Ken Herman, Cox News Service, March 1, 2007, The Chicago Tribune.

The U.S. plans to bar adoptions from Guatemala unless government officials in the Central American nation comply with an international agreement aimed at protecting potential adoptees. Last year Guatemala climbed to second on the list of countries providing children for adoption to the U.S.

"Vice President urges adoption of the law," (Spanish), November 11, 2006, Prensa Libre.

Guatemalan vice president Eduardo Stein and NGO officials urge the Congress to quickly pass legislation on adoption regulations, to prevent more children leaving the country in an irregular manner. Stein is concerned that the country is seen internationally as "a huge market for children."

"Guatemala system is scrutinized as Americans rush to adopt," Marc Lacy, November 5, 2006, New York Times.

In-depth report on criticism of the money changing hands in the private Guatemalan adoption system, including charges that "it has turned this country of 12 million people into a virtual baby farm that supplies infants as if they were a commodity." Includes local "baby brokers" who pay women for their babies. Sources include birthmothers, government officials, NGOs, and Americans picking up babies at the Guatemala City Marriott.

"Guatemalan Adoption Mills Continue to Churn out Children for International Market as Legislation stalls," May 25, 2006, NotiCen: Central American & Caribbean Affairs.

Reports on violence caused by child stealing for "adoption mills" run by powerful people who block adoption reforms. Reports that a man and woman accused of trying to steal local children were lynched.

"Smuggling figure used aliases," January 10, 2004, Inside Costa Rica.

Rolf Levy, allegedly involved in a child smuggling operation for adoption involving the U.S., Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Colombia, has as many as 7 social security numbers and possibly 20 different names, according to child welfare officials.

 "Guatemala's baby business," Rosie Goldsmith, September 1, 2000, BBC News.

Explains how Guatemala's history and predominantly poor population make it vulnerable to corrupt adoption practices.

"Guatemala's babies 'sold to highest bidders'," Duncan Campbell, June 13, 2000, The Guardian.

In-depth report on troubles in Guatemalan adoptions. Quotes NGOs and a UN special report. Tells stories of parents whose children had been stolen for adoption, including Gabriela de Leon, drugged during childbirth, who won a legal battle to regain custody of her child. Concludes that "Clearly mothers are still being forcibly separated from their children to profit from sale of babies for adoption."

“Baby-selling is a major business in Guatemala,” Sara Olkon, June 3, 2000, The Miami Herald.
Reports that child robbery is extraordinarily commonplace in Guatemala. The impoverished republic is the fourth-largest exporter of children in the world and the largest in Latin America. According to a recent U.N. investigation, the majority of international adoptions out of Guatemala are illegal. The women giving up their children are often poor and illiterate, and assume nothing can be done. Adoptive American parents pay about $15,000 for a child, including a $1,000 “finder’s fee” to the individual who convinces pregnant women to give up their babies. Includes story of Angela Gabriela De Leon, a Guatemalan cleaning woman who, in January 1997, “still heavily medicated after giving birth by Caesarian surgery, was coerced  by her husband into signing away her baby to a lawyer who arranges international adoptions. De Leon managed to get her daughter back after a two-year court battle. Her victory in Guatemala was rare. Most women in her situation, often illiterate and poor, either assume nothing can be done or don't know how to fight the system.”

"Global adoption industry 'Children as commodities'," Deutsche Welle.

Reports that Olga Lopez's baby was stolen from her grandmother's arms and that Lopez and her friend Ana Escobar, whose baby was also stolen, regularly visit Guatemalan government offices to pressure for help in locating their children.

NOTE: This page from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website offers documentation of and background about serious irregularities in international adoption. For the systemic analysis of corruption in international adoption, please read “The Lie We Love,” Foreign Policy magazine, Nov./Dec. 2008, and visit our webpages dedicated to international adoption. For ideas about fairer policy solutions, please read “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.

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Last page update: March 7, 2012