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Guatemala tightens adoption rules

GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan legislators approved a new law Tuesday that tightens adoptions, while allowing pending cases – mostly involving U.S. couples – to go through without meeting stricter requirements.

The new law will enable Guatemala to comply with the Hague Convention, an international agreement designed to protect adopted children from human trafficking. The Central American country sent 4,135 children to the U.S. last year, making it the largest source of babies for American families after China.

Many adoptive parents feared the changes would leave in limbo about 3,700 children already matched with prospective parents. The State Department had pressured Guatemala to make an exception for pending adoptions in the new law, and President Oscar Berger is expected to sign it.

Jim and Shari Ramsay, of Voorhees, N.J., expressed relief. Their adoption of an 8 1/2-month-old Guatemalan boy, Juan, was finalized on Monday, but they had carefully watched the new law, concerned that it could have forced all applications to start over again.

“We are very happy to finish the process before the changes … even though the Guatemalan government was much tougher now than during our previous adoption,” said Shari Ramsay. The couple successfully adopted a Guatemalan girl in 2003.

Guatemalan adoptions are currently handled exclusively by notaries who work with birth mothers, determine if babies were surrendered willingly, hire foster mothers and handle paperwork.

These notaries charge an average of $30,000 for children delivered in about nine months – record time for international adoptions. The process is so quick that one in every 100 Guatemalan children born in recent years grows up as an adopted American.

But critics claim the system allows birth mothers to sell their babies for profit, and even some adoptive parents worry that their babies might have come to them through unethical means. In March, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to avoid Guatemalan adoptions entirely until the process is cleaned up.

“Starting Dec. 31, the business of adoptions is over,” said lawmaker Rolando Morales, one of the law’s biggest supporters.

The new law will practically eliminate the participation of notaries, while creating the National Adoption Council. All orphanages will have to register with the council, which will be responsible for informing birth parents of their options and establishing fees that non-Guatemalan adoptive parents pay to the government.

The law expressly prohibits birth parents from being paid for giving a child up for adoption, and eliminates the notaries’ practice of offering children for adoption before they are born. Biological parents will have to wait at least six weeks after birth before deciding whether to put the child up for adoption.


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