Theft of Babies Rising Again in Guatemala

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Cases of stolen Guatemalan babies are on the rise again, says an independent child welfare organization in that country, indicating a possible resurgence of illegal adoptions in that Central American country.

One recent case — documented in a report by the Mexican newspaper El Universal — involved a couple that attempted to sell a Guatemalan baby for $6,000, according to Leonel Dubon, director of the Guatemalan Child Refuge Center

Dubon said the case “was not isolated” and added that the commercialization of children was returning to levels “like those in the worst part of the 1990s,” with babies stolen from their mothers’ arms in hospitals. 

In 2013, there have been at least 12 cases of stolen babies in Guatemala, according to El Universal, something which Dubon attributes both to high levels of impunity and to the bureaucratic system for legal adoptions, which leads prospective parents to look for easier adoption routes. 

According to statistics from the center, 1,700 of the total number of Guatemalan children reported “missing” in 2012, continued missing as of March 2013.

InSight Crime Analysis

The illegal adoption industry in Guatemala, detailed most recently in a book by investigative journalist and photographer Erin Siegal, operates at various levels, including the falsification of documents, fake DNA test results, and kidnapping. Before Guatemala ratified an international convention regarding adoption standards in 2007, the country was second in the world as a source of adoptions after China, with 97 percent of these children adopted by United States families in 2006. Between 2005 and 2008, the annual average number of minors stolen fluctuated from 351 to 413, with these children often sold for between $15,000 and $50,000, according to El Universal. 

US adoption agencies on the receiving end are not required to ascertain how the children have been adopted, just that they meet the standards of being legally adoptable in their home country, which can happen in a variety of illegal ways, said Siegal in an interview with Crime Report in 2011.

Illegal adoptions are a problem in other countries in the region as well. A child trafficking ring that planned to smuggle babies to Irish couples was dismantled in Mexico in 2012, and in March, Brazilian judges were accused of complicity in an illegal adoption ring. 

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