From the JCICS website
February 4, 2009
Joint Council Position Paper Guatemala: One Year Later
On January 1, 2008, under significant scrutiny and amidst allegations of corruption, child
trafficking and unethical practices, Guatemala implemented the Hague Convention on
Intercountry Adoption. Guatemala’s participation in the Convention was applauded by the many
governments and NGOs who had insisted on changes to the practices in Guatemala and
vigorously supported Guatemala’s participation in the Hague Convention. The implementation
was seen by many as the answer to corruption and unethical practices.
Now, 12 months since its implementation, has the Convention truly been the answer? It appears
that one year later there are more questions than answers, more needs than funds, and for the
children in need of a family, more despair than hope.
Since the implementation of the Convention, Guatemala has in fact seen an end to allegations of
ongoing corruption in inter-country adoption. Children now have strong protections against
child trafficking. Birth families are free from the unethical practices of unscrupulous
practitioners. And a Central Authority governing all adoptions has been established in
Over this past year, in addition to these protections, has the Convention’s implementation in
Guatemala also served children? Has it enabled children living in institutions to find a family?
Unfortunately the manner in which Guatemala implemented the Convention has not resulted in
an ethical intercountry adoption system; it has resulted in no intercountry adoption system. The
implementation of the Convention has indeed succeeded in adding protections. But it has also
failed in its role to serve children. Despite an estimated 6,000 institutionalized children and few
domestic adoptions, not one child has found a permanent family through the Convention.
When the Convention was implemented the law stated that the estimated 3,000 adoptions that
had been initiated would be completed. One year and countless investigations by the PGN, MP,
CNA and Guatemalan courts later, over 1,000 children have yet to have their adoptions
completed. Joint Council supports efforts to ensure that each and every adoption is done in the
best interest of the children, and recognizes that investigations are a part of that protection. But
the cost should not be born by innocent children. Joint Council calls on the Guatemalan
government to swiftly bring each pending adoption case to a final resolution and thereby end the
deprivations of institutionalization.
Protecting children and families from harm is one of the primary roles of the Guatemalan
government and their efforts must be recognized and supported. However, much like the
scrutiny and attention by the international community exposed the corruption of the prior system,
this same community must now refocus their attention to bring to light Guatemala’s ineffective
implementation of the Convention and its subsequent impact on institutionalized children and
As recently published by Nuestro Diario, a leading Guatemalan newspaper, children are being
abandoned to the streets at an alarming rate. With few government institutions to provide care
and the closure of many private institutions, some birthmothers are simply leaving their newly
born children in trash dumps. Nuestro Diario reports that in Guatemala City alone, 91 children
were found abandoned with 70 being new born infants. Twenty abandoned children in
Guatemala City were found after they had already perished. What is being done to build a social
service system which not only protects children from corruption but also from a tragic death?
The lack of services to children as a result of the poor implementation of the Convention has yet
to be addressed by those who supported its premature implementation. With prior knowledge
that Guatemala lacked the capacity to properly implement the Convention, why were alternative
reforms not considered? Who will assist the Guatemalans in replacing what was the only
effective means of finding families for children? Who will help preserve families? Who is
building an effective and safe domestic adoption program? Again, one year later there are more
questions than answers.
The reform of the previous adoption system and the implementation of the Convention required
the collective efforts of many governments and NGOs, including the U.S. and European
governments. Building an effective child protection system in Guatemala will necessitate
another, similar effort. Given the many challenges the Guatemalan government and its children
are facing, no one entity can accomplish this task alone. Joint Council calls on the U.S. and
European governments along with UNICEF, the NGO community, and The Hague Permanent
Bureau to provide the necessary technical and financial assistance needed to appropriately serve
the children of Guatemala. After 12 months and little progress it is apparent that only a
collaborative effort can create the full range of desired services.
The formation of a spectrum of services including Family Preservation, Kinship Care, Domestic
Adoption and Intercountry Adoption is desperately needed to ensure that children retain their
right to a family and are protected from the detrimental effects of institutionalization, or even an
unnecessary death. Joint Council calls on all stakeholders who previously asked for reforms to
move with speed in order to provide these much needed services.
Some efforts have already begun. UNICEF and the governments of Chile and Brazil have
provided limited technical assistance, and USAID is planning two pilot programs focused on
family services. These efforts represent a start to services but are clearly not enough. In the past
12 months less than 60 domestic adoptions have been completed. Zero intercountry adoptions
have been initiated. And significant family preservation is only in the development stage. When
a child protection system results in more children being abandoned and less children finding
families, is it not obvious that more needs to be done?
It has been one year since the implementation of the Convention; the children of Guatemala await our answer.