Guatemala, most recently, has had the second highest rate of international adoptions in the world, next to China. While this may not seem all that weird, consider Guatemala’s national population, around 13 million, and China’s, around one billion. The US has been working with the Guatemalan government on revamping their adoption process, due to huge amounts of fraud and the not entirely uncommon practice of paying people for their children, or worse, stealing them.
Given this level of corruption, it’s not surprising that the rumors have sprung out of control in isolated rural areas. In many remote indigenous communities, foreigners are viewed as roboniños (child stealers) who kidnap children for adoption or to sell their organs. This belief has resulted in violence in several areas. A few years ago some Japanese tourists and their guide were murdered by a mob in Todos Santos, Huehuetenango, after the tourists took photos of a young girl. The town, assuming the worst, took matters into their own hands, an act not uncommon in communities where the traditional law enforcement and justice system has failed them.
It is surprising to me, that people searching to adopt children would adopt from Guatemala knowing the corruption that permeates the system (any google search on Guatemala and adoptions will return articles on its shadiness). Last weekend, however, due to lack of transportation and lack of lodging as a result of Semana Santa, Marissa, Laura and I spent the night at the Marriot in Guatemala City on our way back to our sites (I had to call in an early birthday present). The place was teaming with roboniños. Middle and upper class white Americans were running around comparing their new Guatemalan children in the lobby and the restaraunts. “Oooh, she’s adorable,” one couple cooed to another. “We’re getting ours tomorrow, we hope she’s just as pretty as yours.” There was a giant club of them swarming through the hotel. We would pick them out from across the room and whisper “roboniños” as we stared at each other in amazement. The whole process seemed sick and the people appeared oblivious to the corruption they were contributing too. I understand and commiserate with other people’s desires to have a family, but the manner in which the Guatemalan system is run makes me hope that people would look elsewhere for a more honest and open system, even if it meant having to wait longer for a child. Unfortunately, it appears from our Marriot experience that this is not the case.