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From Guatemala to France, families broken up by illegal adoptions

Posted today at 04:56, updated at 04:56

On the walls of the office, dozens of photos tarnished by time. People smile at each other, kiss each other. « This is the first reunion that we have organized, a dad with his daughter … In 2001. » Marco Garavito is still moved by these images, the fruit of more than two decades of labor. The 70-year-old man is responsible for Todos por el reencuentro (“All for the reunion”), one of the programs of La Liga guatemalteca de higiene mental, a psychological support organization specializing in the search for 5,000 missing children during the long run. armed conflict between the military and the Marxist guerrillas (200,000 dead between 1960 and 1996).

Marco Garavito shows us around the little house, built around a patio filled with plants, in the center of the capital, Ciudad de Guatemala. Four people work with self-sacrifice within this program, without any help from the State, paying out of their own pockets for translators of the twenty-two Mayan languages, covering kilometers of bumpy tracks to reach remote villages. “We currently have 1,300 files, specifies our host. At the beginning, we were looking for the children in Guatemala; then it was necessary to expand abroad. Two hundred of them would be in Europe, especially in France, Belgium and Italy. « 

From Guatemala to France, families broken up by illegal adoptions

To take the measure of the phenomenon, we have to go back to the end of the 1970s. State violence was then systematic: ransacking of villages, forced disappearances, torture … After the massacres, lost kids were taken away by soldiers to use them. as servants or adopt them. Quite quickly, some people smell a business there, and the children are sent for adoption in other countries, without verifying whether they are really orphans.

From 1977, the process accelerated with a law which made it possible to « privatize » the procedures: no need to go through a judge, a notarial deed validated by the office of the Attorney General of the Nation (PGN) is sufficient. As a result, at the end of the 1990s, Guatemala was the fourth country in the world in terms of the number of children adopted internationally, after China, Russia and South Korea, but the first in proportion to its population (11 million inhabitants in 1999). For the only period for which the figures are known, between 1997 and 2007, 32,250 children were officially adopted, according to the PGN, above all in the United States (86%), but also in France (4.6%).

At the time, thousands of American and European couples took advantage of the ease of the procedure. « It has become a business, the children were sold to the highest bidder « , explains Alexander Colop, head of the prosecution against trafficking in human beings at the Guatemalan public prosecutor’s office. “To meet demand, jaladoras, touts, set out in search of vulnerable, illiterate women, in order to convince them to abandon their children or to have them sign papers without reading the content to them ”, indicates Leonel Dubon, of the Guatemalan association El Refugio de la niñez (« the refuge of childhood »). At the end of the armed conflict, in 1996, outright thefts made it possible to recover even more children.

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