A special Dateline on adoption in Guatemala airs on NBC Sunday, Jan. 20 at 7pm ET.
By Victoria Corderi, Dateline NBC Correspondent
I witnessed the joy of a successful foreign adoption when my sister came home with a baby boy from Guatemala more than five years ago. Today, my nephew is thriving and my sister is as thrilled as she was when she first held her son in her arms. There are many people who've had similar life-changing experiences. But there is also a dark side to Guatemalan adoption: corruption, lies, forgery, kidnapping, broken hearts. The market is driven by the demand for adoptions from prospective parents in the U.S. And, as so often happens when there is high demand and the potential for a profit, swindlers appear to exploit the system.
Guatemala has been an adoption magnet because the wait for a child is months rather than years. When we traveled to Guatemala City, we saw hotel lobbies brimming with Americans meeting with lawyers and foster mothers and cradling the babies they were in the process of adopting. The sheer numbers of babies and strollers and anxious adoptive parents milling about the hotels and streets made for a surreal sight. At first blush, it seems like a win-win situation: unwanted children escape the dire poverty that plagues much of this country while Americans longing for children are able to fulfill their dreams.
But what if the children up for adoption were taken under false pretenses? Or, if poor, pregnant women are pressured by brokers offering money? And what if the children have been kidnapped outright? These are not rhetorical questions. We learned what happens during our investigation. While we were in Guatemala, we found out about three young girls who'd been kidnapped by a ring that gave them new identities and tried to sell them for adoption. We also tried to go inside the system by posing as a new adoption agency from the United States looking for contacts. We set up meetings with a controversial adoption facilitator whose name kept coming up when we were looking into complaints about unethical operators in Guatemala. What happened in both situations was eye-opening and dramatic.
Read producer Benita Noel's blog on two kidnapped Guatemalan kids who were reunited with their family.
For more on the positive side of international adoption, see Dateline's story about a Philadelphia family that adopted three sets of twins from Russia.