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Adoptions from Guatemala have been suspended for Canadians since September 2001 and will remain so until the Guatemalan government implements effective adoption safeguards. The Canadian Embassy advised that illegal and unethical practices still exist and issues of child trafficking continue to arise.
Adoptions from Guatemala remain open for other countries, such as France, U.K. and U.S. In March 2007 the U.S. State Department said it no longer recommends that Americans adopt children from Guatemala, and adoptions with Guatemala will not be permitted unless better legislation is passed. A new law is expected by the end of 2007.
-- An Aug. 20, 2000 Ottawa Citizen article reported that Ontario's Ministry of Community and Social Services is banning adoptions through private lawyers, and allowing only adoptions processed through Guatemalan courts. The Citizen quotes Bruce Harris, regional director for Casa Alianza, www.casa-alianza.org, firstname.lastname@example.org: "What they're saying is ... they will only accept court-abandoned children," said Harris. The article cited a U.N. report earlier in 2000 which concluded, "legal adoption appears to be the exception rather than the rule." Casa Alianza / Covenant House Latin America works with street children in Mexico and Central America; head office is in San José, Costa Rica.
-- Guatemala closed to international adoption in September 2001, following reports of child trafficking. Guatemala needed to enact legislation implementing the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption before adoptions could resume.
-- On Sept. 10, 2001, the Ontario Ministry of Community, Family and Children's Services [now Ministry of Children and Youth Services] announced that it was no longer taking new applications for adoptions from Guatemala. CFCS acted on advice from the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala, which found that illegal and unethical adoption practices were widespread in Guatemala, and serious irregularities have been uncovered. CFCS will not process new applications under the Intercountry Adoption Act until adoption safeguards are in place (e.g. Guatemala enacts Hague legislation).
For Ontario adoption agency St. Anne Adoption Centre, www.stanneadoption.org, the closing of adoptions from Guatemala marked the end of 12 years of adoption work in Guatemala. The agency has facilitated over 400 adoptions to Canada since 1989, handling the majority of Guatemalan adoptions, not just in Ontario, but across Canada. In 2001, 22 children from Guatemala were adopted into Canada, most to Ontario. That's a drop from 68 children in 2000, and 74 in 1999.
Beryl Mercer, email@example.com, Executive Director of St. Anne Adoption Centre, wrote on Sept. 26, 2001 to Robin Hilborn of Family Helper web site, "Ontario has suspended adoptions from Guatemala. Various organizations monitoring adoptions in Guatemala continue to suspect unethical practices. There are no statistics to point out how many of the adoptions are unethical or illegal but there is a perception that the cases exist. Therefore, the only practical way to protect biological families and their children is for Guatemala to implement the Hague Convention. Ontario and Quebec have now both suspended adoptions from Guatemala and it would not surprise me if other provinces and countries follow suit. In the meantime St. Anne's is finishing the files that are allowed to come to completion."
-- (Oct. 25, 2001) In British Columbia, the Ministry of Children and Family Development web site cited the Jan. 27, 2000 findings of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (that trafficking of children for intercountry adoption exists in Guatemala on a large scale). MCFD wrote, "In 2000, BC families adopted 14 children from Guatemala. The Ministry has not received any information to suggest that there were improprieties with any of these adoptions. However, effective immediately (Oct. 25, 2001), adoptions from Guatemala will no longer be facilitated in British Columbia".
-- On Aug. 14, 2002 the Guatemalan parliament gave authority for Guatemala to work toward ratifying the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Guatemala must now develop implementing legislation. It is expected the suspension of adoptions will continue until Guatemala passes that legislation.
-- Guatemala acceded to the Hague Convention on Nov. 26, 2002.
-- Guatemala has chosen a date for starting new adoption procedures, but the actual procedures haven't been decided. A U.S. State Dept. notice said that adoption files from before March 5, 2003 will be processed under old rules. But for files after March 5 new procedures haven't been decided, and there's no timetable for announcing them.
-- The Hague Convention countries met in The Hague on May 20, 2003. Guatemala advised that to address concerns about child trafficking, it was considering a temporary suspension of adoption cases. It would continue to work towards implementing new procedures as required by the Hague Convention.
-- The U.S. State Department advised on July 15, 2003 that, due to the uncertain situation, adopting families should not file for adoption in Guatemala until current problems are resolved.
-- In July 2003 Guatemala advised that under new regulations child referrals will be made only through a central authority, and no referrals would be accepted from agencies or attorneys. On Aug. 14, 2003 it was reported that Guatemala had suspended implementation of the Hague Convention and the Central Authority. [U.S. State Dept.: www.travel.state.gov/guatemala_notice.html]
-- A Sept. 28, 2003 news report from the Chicago Tribune said that Guatemala's 400 adoption attorneys saw that their livelihoods were at risk, because implementing the more restrictive Hague Convention rules would cause a decrease in foreign adoptions. They began a campaign to overturn the new rules.
-- On Oct. 11, 2003 the Solicitor General of Human Rights asked the Guatemalan Constitutional Court to order a "provisional suspension of all international adoptions". In November the Constitutional Court denied the request to suspend international adoptions.
-- Reuters reported Oct. 24, 2003 that 90 Guatemalan attorneys had filed an appeal charging that Guatemala had not followed the correct constitutional procedures in acceding to the Hague Convention. The Constitutional Court upheld the appeal, thus restoring the adoption process led by attorneys. The result of court cases challenging the Guatemalan government was to slow the processing of adoption files, creating a backlog.
-- November 2003. At its recently concluded Congressional session the Guatemalan Congress considered legislation to implement the Hague Convention but did not pass it. The new law on the intercountry adoption process purported to curb kidnappings and other child-rights violations through DNA verification of a mother's parental relationship to a child.
-- On Dec. 1, 2003 the U.S. State Department said that the Solicitor General's office (Procuradoria General de la Nacion, PGN) has resumed processing adoptions through notary publics and is accepting new cases. (PGN is Guatemala's Central Authority for adoptions, under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.) U.S. officials in Guatemala City are now accepting I-600 visa petitions from prospective American adopters for children to be adopted and authorizing DNA testing. However the State Department warned that Americans thinking of adopting in Guatemala should take into account the delays arising from a large backlog of pending cases.
In a July 11, 2005 notice, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala announced that, due to new biometric security enhancements, it would issue immigrant visas at 3:30 pm the next workday following the visa interview.
The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, in a Sept. 19, 2005 notice, said how it will schedule appointments for visa interviews. Adoptive parents should not travel to Guatemala until they have confirmed the date and time of their child's immigrant visa interview. In its Feb. 23, 2006 notice, the Embassy said it will accept adoption documents at Window #1. Attorneys may present new adoption cases at Window #8 (a wooden door with a number 8).
In a March 29, 2006 notice, the U.S. State Dept. warned that U.S. citizens may no longer be able to adopt from Guatemala if that country fails to abide by the rules of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The U.S. intends to ratify the Hague Convention in 2007. When it enters into force in the U.S., Guatemala must also comply with the Convention. In fact, Guatemala is already party to the Convention but hasn't implemented its rules about having key adoption functions performed by a Central Authority (or other public or accredited private authority). With the Convention in force in the U.S., but Guatemala failing to implement the provisions, it would be hard for Americans to adopt Guatemalan children.
On July 18, 2006 Joint Council for International Children's Services (JCICS) reported that while Guatemala is currently open to adoptions by U.S. citizens, waiting parents are reporting delays in getting paperwork through PGN. Questioned by JCICS about delays, the Embassy in Guatemala says it is still under 30 days for its processing of cases, but the new head of PGN is not approving cases as quickly. JCICS has heard it now takes 8-12 weeks for a case to leave PGN, instead of the previous 4-6 weeks.
On July 29, 2006 an in-depth article by Juan Carlos Llorca of Associated Press was picked up by the media (see, for example, St. Petersburg Times). "Tougher Rules Could Slow Adoption of Babies" explains that the current adoption process in Guatemala is relatively lenient, but will toughen up once Hague rules take effect in the U.S. in mid-2007. Consequently, would-be parents are rushing to apply: of the current 4,100 pending cases, more than 3,000 were filed this year, 2006. Illustrating the leniency, Llorca wrote, "For now, willing parents can get Guatemalan babies by paying thousands of dollars to notaries who act as baby brokers, recruiting birth mothers, handling all the paperwork and completing the job in less than half the time it takes elsewhere." In other countries adoptions can take over a year; Guatemala can deliver children in as little as five months. It still allows adoptions to be managed privately, without judicial approval. The Hague Convention aims to protect children, birth parents and adoptive parents from abuse, in part by requiring a government agency to regulate adoptions. Once the U.S. implements the Hague Convention, it will require all foreign adoptions to meet tough international standards. This could spell the end to easy (and, some say, corruption-prone) adoptions in Guatemala. Llorca described the process by which notaries find women with unwanted pregnancies and hire foster parents pending the placement. In the last nine years Americans adopted 17,863 Guatemalan children, French couples 1,440, and Guatemalans 576. Americans adopted 3,748 of the Guatemalan babies born in 2005, or 1% of all births in Guatemala.
A U.S. State Department notice on Dec. 15, 2006 warned that continued adoptions from Guatemala are tied to improvements in the system. Although Guatemala acceded to the Hague Convention in 2003, it has not created the infrastructure needed to implement it. If Guatemala does not comply with Hague provisions after the U.S. implements the Convention, then the U.S. will not be legally permitted to approve adoptions from Guatemala. The notice said the Guatemalan government has indicated that adoption reform and compliance with the Convention are high priorities.
The State Department's notice of Feb. 26, 2007 strongly cautions Americans thinking of adopting in Guatemala to carefully consider their options. The adoption process in Guatemala is not adequately protecting all children as evidenced by the arrest in the U.S. of a well-known adoption facilitator, smuggling of Guatemalan children into the U.S. who were candidates for adoption, fraudulent documents, an imposter purporting to be the biological mother of a child, and birth parents being deceived about relinquishing parental rights. The adoption situation in Guatemala is volatile and unpredictable. The U.S. government is likely to review all pending adoption cases with more scrutiny and may be unable to process cases quickly, but is not planning an immediate shutdown of adoptions.
On March 1 the Guatemalan government announced a "Manual of Good Practices" in Guatemalan adoptions which sets forth rules to be implemented, such as that courts, not private attorneys, should determine whether a child is eligible for adoption. The Manual is a first step in preparing Guatemalan authorities for a national law that implements the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.
In Frequently Asked Questions for parents adopting Guatemalan children posted on March 14, 2007, the U.S. State Department covers parents concerned about proceeding ("we cannot recommend adoption from Guatemala at this time"); the problems in Guatemala (Guatemalan notaries' conflict of interest; lack of government oversight; unregulated foster care; lack of Hague-consistent legislation); and whether to halt an adoption in process. "Some American prospective adoptive parents are deciding against adoption from Guatemala now because they do not want to support negative child welfare practices. In addition, a child's long-term psychological well-being may be affected if the child later learns that his birth family did not freely choose to give him up or that he, and perhaps siblings, were produced for the sole purpose of adoption."
The Joint Council on International Children's Services said Mar. 16, 2007 that legislation intended to make the international adoption system conform with Hague regulations will be introduced in Guatemala early next week. The U.S. State Department has stated that adoptions with Guatemala will not be permitted unless such legislation is passed.
Time magazine of Mar. 17, 2007 headlined "U.S. Warns of Guatemalan Adoptions." "Citing rampant problems of fraud and extortion, the State Department says it no longer recommends that Americans adopt children from Guatemala, the No. 2 source of orphans coming to the United States."
Inforpress Centroamericana said on Mar. 29, 2007 that when the U.S. ratifies the Hague Convention, Guatemala will be encouraged to change its adoption practices, because the U.S. has said it will prohibit its citizens from adopting Guatemalan children if it doesn't. "Such changes have encountered seemingly insurmountable resistance from a powerful lobby of adoption lawyers." In 2003 five countries -- Canada, Germany, Holland, Spain, and Great Britain -- ostracized Guatemala because it had stopped to offer legal guarantees crucial for international adoptions. These included ensuring that the birth parents consent to an adoption; that parents understand the consequences of the adoption; and that an international adoption is in the best interests of the child.
In "Russia curtails American adoptions", USA Today said on Apr. 10, 2007 that practices in Guatemala brought a warning last month from the U.S. government, which said it found evidence of fraudulent documents and of Guatemalan children being smuggled into the United States to be adopted. Guatemala said it would tighten its supervision.
According to a State Department notice on June 4, 2007, on May 22 the Guatemalan Congress passed legislation affirming its intent to meet the requirements of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, to set standards of protection of children in the adoption process. The legislation sets a date of Dec. 31, 2007 for meeting Guatemala's obligations under the Hague Convention. Guatemala has been a party to the Convention since March 2003, but has never enacted legislation or instituted practices consistent with Hague requirements.
A U.N. committee has recommended that Guatemala stop all adoptions by foreigners. The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its June 8, 2007 report, expressed serious concerns about intercountry adoption in Guatemala. It reiterated its recommendation that Guatemala suspend all adoptions and urgently undertake measures to comply with the provisions of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. The Committee also urged Guatemala to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for the sale of children for the purpose of adoption.
A State Department notice dated June 13, 2007, said that it continues to caution American prospective parents that the U.S. government cannot recommend adoption from Guatemala. Several adoption service providers are under investigation in the U.S. Criminal charges have been brought against adoption facilitator Mary Bonn and the adoption agencies Reaching Arms International and Waiting Angels. The State Department applauds the Congress of Guatemala passing legislation on May 22, 2007 approving the Hague Convention. The bill clarifies the legal status of the Convention within Guatemala, which had been questioned previously in Guatemalan courts. When the Convention enters into force for the United States in early 2008, the U.S. government will not be able to approve adoptions from Guatemala if Guatemala's adoption process does not provide the protections for children and families required by the Convention. Some of the steps Guatemala must take to meet its obligations under the Convention are in the PDF chart "U.S. Law, the Hague Adoption Convention, and Guatemala", dated May 16, 2007.
For an interpretation of recent developments, see the point of view of a British Columbia adoption agency,
Help the Abandoned Children of Guatemala (Summer 2007)
in which executive director Douglas Chalke sees positive developments over the past five months and says to the government, "Let Canadians adopt the children languishing in orphanages".
For resources on Guatemala adoption, see Adoption Resource Central, Country-specific Resources - Guatemala.
For more on adoption in Guatemala, see the Family Helper publication Canadian Guide to Intercountry Adoption.
Hague Convention information is at the Hague Conference site.
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Country News is written by Robin Hilborn,
Country News is written by Robin Hilborn,