Waldlaw Blog

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

An Adoption Mess in Guatemala

The political and ethical issues surrounding international adoption have always been controversial, and they currently are coming to a head in Guatemala. Charges of baby stealing, falsified DNA tests, and payment of birth mothers to give up their babies for adoption have all surfaced, causing governmental agencies on both sides of the border to take pause. This isn't the first time these issues have surfaced in Guatemala, nor in international adoption in general, and they are leading some to question the propriety of many of these programs. On the other side of the equation, concern for the futures of thousands of babies already in foster care make significant delays very troubling. According to a recent CNN article, the Guatemalan government estimates that as many as 17 babies currently leave Guatemala each day for adoptive parents in the United States, and U.S. diplomats in Guatemala have estimated that 1 in every 100 Guatemalan babies end up in the international adoption market -- which, by any measure, is A LOT of babies. How these babies come to be available for adoption -- what the impact is on Guatemalan culture and society to have so many Guatemalan children being raised abroad -- and how the world should respond to grinding poverty that leaves mothers with no viable economic alternative to relinquishment of their children for adoption are all issues that we, as ethical and caring people, need to be grappling with. And still. I have many wonderful clients raising wonderful Guatemalan children here in the United States, and my own niece brought her Guatemalan daughter home less than a year ago to the endless joy of my mother, who frankly dotes on the baby. Our Guatemalan children have enriched the fabric of our communities, the same way that our Chinese children and our Russian children have, adding to our ethnic and cultural diversity and causing heightened awareness in our churches, synagogues and schools of the gifts these countries have to offer. The ethical and political complexities of international adoption create problems that are not easily solved; and in looking for solutions it is important to remember that what appear to be sensible long term solutions may be completely wrong if implemented too abruptly or without due consideration of their short term effects. With threats that the whole program will be shut down indefinitely effective January 1, 2008 (see a recent memo from the Department of State for details), I honestly don't know what the future holds for Guatemalan adoptions. In the meantime, many clients in my law practice are turning their eyes toward Vietnam, where many of the same political and economic complexities exist. We need to take a long look at international adoption, with all its many wonders and potential pitfalls, and come up with a game plan that respects the legal process, respects the cultural imperatives of each country, but avoids leaving children languishing in orphanages while prospective loving parents wait in endless bureaucratic queues for children to bring home. To be honest, I'm not sure what the long term solution to this recurrent problem is. But to strand 3000 Guatemalan babies in orphanages and in legal limbo while our governments work to figure this all out is, simply put, wrong.


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