NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH NEW BOOK EXPOSES CHILD TRAFFICKING, HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN ADOPTION
Investigative journalist and adoption expert Erin Siegal uncovers multiple human rights violations and organized crime
NEW YORK, NY (November 15, 2011)—For the first time, the extent of fraud, corruption, and child trafficking in international adoption between Guatemala and the United States has been credibly determined. Thousands of previously-unreleased government documents obtained by investigative journalist Erin Siegal from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala paint a vivid picture of what, exactly, the U.S. government knew about criminal wrongdoing in adoption, including kidnapping, orphan "laundering," and even the murder of birth mothers.
"Child trafficking in international adoption is a multi-jurisdictional crime that is extremely difficult for governments to investigate and prosecute," says Siegal. "Because of regulatory lapses and such jurisdictional gaps, it remains entirely possible to traffic "adoptable orphans" for profit with near-total impunity."
From 2003-2008, 20 percent of the 100,000 children adopted by American families came from Guatemala—widely considered to have had the worst international adoption improprieties over the longest period of time. When the small nation officially stopped processing new international adoptions at the end 2007, around 3,000 children were left in adoption purgatory with unresolved cases. Hundreds of those cases are yet to be resolved.
Today, Ethiopia is sometimes referred to as "the new Guatemala," since many U.S. adoption agencies set up Ethiopia programs after Guatemalan children were no longer available. Over the summer of 2011, problems in Ethiopia's adoption industry have emerged and resulted in dozens of orphanages being closed amidst allegations of child trafficking. This week, from November 7-18th, a team of U.S. State Department officials are visiting Ethiopia to review and investigate adoption cases.
In her new book, FINDING FERNANDA: Two Mothers, One Child, and a Cross-Border Search for Truth (Cathexis Press; November 2011), Erin Siegal, a Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, brings years of carefully cultivated reporting on adoption fraud to detail the inner workings of the Guatemalan adoption industry. Siegal’s conclusions are supported by sources such as the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, various documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests, Guatemalan public records requests, leaked emails, and key sources inside both the Guatemalan and U.S. governments.
In FINDING FERNANDA, Siegal focuses on a complex investigation of $30,000 U.S. dollars, four Guatemalan “orphans,” one Florida-based Christian adoption agency, a family-run child-trafficking ring, one infant cut from her unconscious mother’s womb, two tiny missing sisters, and a nine-member Tennessee family who believed wholeheartedly in Christian love and faith—until the dark side of international adoption shattered their trust. This compelling nonfiction narrative reveals the heart wrenching story of how, against all odds, one poor Guatemalan woman, Mildred Alvarado, ultimately reunited with her kidnapped daughters against all odds—with the help of the American housewife slated to adopt one of those children, Elizabeth Emanuel.
Siegal, whose research for FINDING FERNANDA was supported by various awards, grants, and institutions, says this of her investigation:
“By taking the time to understand how and why international adoption fraud has been able to occur, the United States can act to prevent these serious human rights violations from happening again. Children aren't the only victims—birth families and adoptive families have suffered greatly over the years because of these serious crimes.”
Siegal remains in contact with Guatemalan investigators and prosecutors handling ongoing criminal investigations into trafficking, conspiracy, and organized crime in adoption. She is an investigative journalist, photographer, and Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. Her writing and photography have been published in such publications as the New York Times, Time magazine, Newsweek, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, and more. She has collaborated on projects with NGOs such as the Urban Justice Center, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations.
Siegal’s investigation is critical to consider this November as we take time to reflect on international adoption, a system that helps thousands of children each year, yet remains highly susceptible to criminal enterprises. Ethiopia's recent adoption woes have led to industry speculation over which developing nation might become the next popular spot to adopt from. The time for awareness has never been more urgent.
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