From the Adoption News
By Philip Sherwell in New York AP
A Guatemalan woman is celebrating a remarkable and emotional reunion with her abducted daughter who was about to be adopted by an unsuspecting American couple.
Ana Escobar had clutched her only picture of her missing child when she tearfully described to The Sunday Telegraph last year how six-month-old Esther was stolen from her by a gunman in March 2007. But her anguish ended last week when DNA tests confirmed that a girl, now almost two years old and assigned for adoption by an unidentified US family, was indeed the daughter of the 27-year-old shop worker.
“I can’t explain how excited and happy I am,” Ms Escobar said last week after hearing the good news. “There are people who don’t believe in miracles and then there are people to whom miracles happen. “Carrying the picture of Esther gave me comfort and company through these 16 long months. I will tell her the story as soon as she can understand what happened”.
The case is the first proven link between child-snatching gangs and the international adoption system that was previously one of the highest foreign currency earners for the impoverished Central American country.
“This was run by a mafia, and we going after them,” said Jaime Tecu, director of a team now reviewing all pending adoptions from Guatemala. “This is the first time that we’ve been able to show with irrefutable evidence that a stolen child was put up for adoption.”
One in 100 children born in Guatemala eventually grow up in the US, with new parents who paid on average about $30,000 to lawyers, doctors and brokers to process fast-track adoptions. (emphasis added)
But the Guatemalan authorities had long suspected that some children were stolen and then sold to supply the adoption industry, which was ill-regulated before a major crackdown launched last year.
The reunion is a testimony to the dogged maternal perseverance of Ms Escobar, who at one stage went on hunger strike with five other women whose babies had similarly been abducted at gunpoint to demand official action. She spent months trawling hospitals and orphanages that supplied adopted babies, or simply staring at children in the street.
“I looked in every child’s face I could,” she said.
Then in May, she was sitting in the National Adoption Council offices, hoping to gain access to babies whose adoption cases were being reviewed. She briefly glimpsed a toddler, being ushered into another room, who reminded her strongly of Esther.
The brief encounter haunted her, but she was assured that the girl’s papers were in order – and included the results of DNA tests that identified another woman as her birth mother.
But Ms Escobar convinced the authorities to compare her own DNA with the child’s. Even then, she feared the results would be tampered with, but on Wednesday she heard the joyous confirmation that the girl was indeed her daughter.
Mr Tecu said officials will investigate everyone associated with Esther’s proposed adoption, including the lawyers who handled the case and the doctor who signed the falsified DNA tests.
Ms Escobar had gone into hiding last year after identifying the gunman from police mug shots and mounting her high-profile campaign.
“My mother’s instinct tells me she has already been sold for adoption,” she told The Sunday Telegraph when this newspaper was investigating the controversial foreign adoption programme.
Last year, the country’s congress passed a new adoptions law to clean up a system ridden by allegations of corruption and fraud.
The United Nations had urged a suspension of all adoptions in what it called a “corrupt” trade.
Guatemala is now implementing the Hague Convention which strictly regulates international adoptions, removing lawyers from the process and handing responsibility to an independent commission responsible for putting more stringent new rules into effect.
In 2006, the last year before the system was tightened, Americans adopted 4,135 children from Guatemala – second only to China, from where there were 6,493 adoptions. In recent years, dozens of mothers reported stolen babies. At least two were found in orphanages, although they had not yet been put up for adoption.
Hysteria about child-snatching rings reputedly operating in remote rural areas has ended in dozens of lynchings of suspected baby thieves – victims who often turned out to be innocent outsiders.
Even more prevalent, campaigners said, was so-called “baby farming” by impoverished young women who were paid to become pregnant to supply the adoption trade….