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Why adopting in Guatemala is getting harder

Second only to China for Americans seeking children, Guatemala is tightening its rules.

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American parents cradle their new babies in cotton blankets and feed them bottles of formula. They clog the lobby of the Marriott Hotel in Guatemala City with strollers. Penny Conner, from Medfield, Mass., says she cannot wait to bring her 9-month-old boy home. It's a joyous scene: Guatemala is one of the most popular places to adopt for American families – second only to China.

But across town, Angelica Lopez cries and can't stop. A year ago, three women kidnapped her 2-month-old baby daughter, she says. Her story is the underbelly of the country's multimillion-dollar adoption industry.

When it comes to red tape, Guatemala is one of the easiest places to adopt a child in the world. And depending on who you ask, the adoption program is either a godsend for thousands of needy children, or a nefarious business that has given rise to kidnappings, coercion, and mothers reproducing for compensation. In either case, 95 percent of the babies end up in the US.

Now Guatemala is moving to more strictly regulate the adoption process, under internal and international pressure. Due to lack of government oversight and emerging problems, the US government announced earlier this year that it no longer recommends that US parents adopt from Guatemala. As a result, Guatemala is set to implement the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption Dec. 31, which sets international standards for adoptions and could greatly limit the program.

Critics, including adoption agencies and Guatemalan lawyers, say that tighter regulations will leave thousands of babies without safe homes in this Central American nation, in which 80 percent of residents live in poverty and the infant-mortality rate is one of the highest in the hemisphere. But many others say that more restrictions on the process is crucial to the children's well-being.

"We are not against adoption. On the contrary, we believe that in our country, a poor one, it is very important and necessary," says Guatemala's Attorney General Mario Gordillo. "But we need stricter control in finding our children a family and not the inverse – finding a child for the families."

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