December 31, 2007

Out with the Old, In With the ?

2007 has drawn to a close, and with it Guatemala’s system of notarial adoptions. Tens of thousands of children have found permanent, loving homes outside the borders of their country of birth, and equal numbers of families from all walks of life have been blessed with the joy of parenthood, thanks to that system. The notarial system also brought many claims of attorney and adoption agency incompetence, lies, and malfeasance, along with bureaucratic delays on the part of both US and Guatemalan government agencies.

Looking ahead into the new year, we are left with so many questions, and so many fears. How will the new system function? How will Guatemalan families unable to care for their children manage? Will the new system in fact function, or is the new law a way to eliminate adoptions quietly?

The initial signs are disquieting, to say the least. The new Adoptions Law was passed through heavy international pressure in December, with a very short implementation period and with many questions left open as to how the law would work in practice, how women in need could access adoption services, and what requirements adoptive parents would have to follow. Moreover, the Guatemalan media was filled with commentaries and official quotes stating that, under the new law, an adoption would take at least two years to complete and that the new law’s requirements would have the effect of drastically reducing the number of adoptions.

Notice that Guatemalan officials were not quoted as saying that the new law would reduce the need for adoptions. No, these officials appear to be concerned only with reducing the number of adoptions. Perhaps they honestly believe that the thousands of adoptions over the past several years reflect a corrupt, money-driven system that somehow paid thousands of women to get pregnant and sell their babies to the highest bidder. And perhaps some portion of their claims/concerns are true. Yet equally true are the stories that birth families have conveyed face to face to many adoptive families. Stories of dire poverty and secret pregnancies. Stories of illness and too many children to provide for.

Our worry must also be mixed with genuine outrage. UNICEF and various NGOs that purport to care about women and children might want to take a look at a recent study published in Science Magazine. The study shows the severe harm done to children through institutionalization and the benefits of foster care as a temporary measure for children waiting for forever families. Yet the law that they urged Guatemala to pass does away with foster care. Further proof (if we needed any) that, for UNICEF and organizations like Casa Alianza, the well-being of children is the least of their concerns.

The new Central Authority is not yet running, with only days until the new law takes effect. Where are the counselors who will be able to provide women with advice and assistance? Where are the children’s homes to care for children who cannot remain in their biological families? We as an adoption community are about to find out. More importantly, so are the children of Guatemala.

Posted by Lee at December 31, 2007 05:58 PM | TrackBack

Very well said, Lee. Let's hope the organizations who state that they care for children will pay attention to the research and experience of many and will commit to long-term follow-through with their advocacy in Guatemala.

Let's hope all involved will work together to leave politics aside and set up systems that will truly benefit those who have the most need, the poor and the children - those who have the least political voice but who are the "favored" of God.

God Bless all the families in Guatemala in the coming years.

Posted by: reba at December 31, 2007 07:42 PM

I keep thinking [depressing thought] we will see the results in the next human rights reports obviously reported by a different section at DOS as well as reports by various NGOs including ironically Unicef and maybe even an ironic Anderson Cooper show on the children in Guatemala. What would really make it special would be if Anderson could work up a little outrage into his emotions when he covers the story so those of us who watched his previous report can marvel at the audacity.

Posted by: lisa at January 8, 2008 08:56 PM