Imagine that nine months of pregnancy has gone by, all preparations have been made, and suddenly your water breaks. You scramble to tell your friends and family to find the local doctor. The doctor arrives and you are nervous but yet excited for this next step in your life. The next thing you know, you wake up and your infant has been born. However, your new pride and joy is nowhere to be found. Panic rushes over you as you and your family search the whole village for your child, but without luck. Later you come to realize that you were drugged and your infant had been kidnapped for the purposes of black-market adoptions. This is the disturbing truth in rural villages throughout Guatemala. Infants and babies are being stolen at a rate of 2,000 per year, only to enter the child trafficking channels and be sold illegally for adoption. This travesty is growing with as international adoptions become popular throughout the world.
Illegal adoptions are a form of child trafficking and have grave consequences for those adopting, illicit trafficking channels, and the victim parents of the children. First, by taking part in this illicit trafficking chain, whether with or without actual knowledge, the new adoptive parents become accomplices in child trafficking. Further, these parents are also taking a risk of other fraudulent factors concerning their new child including medical issues, legality issues, and psychological issues. Second, by allowing illegal adoptions to continue, 10,000 to 15,000 USD are being supplied to the child trafficking channels, which are often aligned with other trafficking channels of human, drug, and arm trafficking. Lastly, villages where the children have been stolen become increasingly hostile to outsiders, often disregarding any rule of law created by their country. Specifically, reports have been made that villages are extremely guarded against outsiders in fear of their babies being swiped. I even spoke with a fellow attorney who told me that she and her father were once chased out of one village with machetes because the villagers suspected them as being child traffickers.
Some International Organizations and policymakers do not formerly acknowledge illegal adoptions as being a form of child trafficking. The UNICEF definition of child trafficking is when a child has been moved within a country, or across borders, whether by force or not, with the purpose of exploiting the child. Exploitation under this definition only includes using the child for forced labor, prostitution, or other forms of sex slavery. However, CICIG recognizes illegal adoptions as being a form of child trafficking, taking great advances to help the social problem. Definitions aside, it can definitely be said that if a legal birth parent is deceived, drugged, or forced to give up their child for the ulterior motives of moving the child throughout a country and internationally; it is in its essence a form of child trafficking.
The issue of illegal child adoption can be decreased via a multipronged approach as follows:
1. Reform the Guatemalan Legal System by:
- Creating new procedures to ensure the mother’s fingerprints represent her freewill to give up her child,
- Legally enacting higher punishments for the notaries, accomplices, and government official involved in illegal adoptions,
- Increasing the amount of local and national policing in villages to decrease the fraud or kidnapping, and
- Changing the judicial laws so that judges and prosecutors automatically assume an adoption is a form of trafficking, requiring the defense to have a greater burden of proof to prove it is not.
2. Build up public services to increase the education of women/parents most vulnerable to this form of child trafficking.
- Education of the issue and options for adoption are not widely discussed throughout the conservative state of Guatemala. Therefore it is necessary to make such education available. This can even include discussions in elementary school in order to prevent a mother from falling victim to this crime.
3. Increase advocacy internationally to make the illegality known worldwide.
4. Enact an international treaty and hence national laws, incurring penalties against the receiving parents of an illegal adoption.
- A penalty can decrease the likelihood that a potential adoptive parent will cut corners during the adoption process, which often leads to the illegal adoptions.
Illegal adoptions are a form of child trafficking that people both inside and outside of Guatemala can assist through advocacy, reformation, and education. Knowledge is power, so please spread the word on this existing controversy in Guatemala.