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International adoption: A big fix brings dramatic decline

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Once a secretive or shameful process in many countries, adoption – particularly the heartwarming gesture of rich people traveling to the ends of the earth for a baby – became iconic in modern culture. The likes of Madonna and Angelina Jolie adopting in Africa injected glamorous publicity as well as drew suspicion and cynicism to the process.

Along with the growth of international adoption came publicized scandal and consequently a chillier new adoption climate, with stricter government controls. It has caused the number of international adoptions to plummet, and left behind – if also protected – many orphans around the globe.

Silvia is one of them, prevented from joining a new family in what is considered the most adoptable period – the infant to toddler years. In the final days of 2007, with the system beset by allegations of baby theft and coercion of birth mothers, Guatemalan lawmakers placed a moratorium on international adoptions. It put in place a new system that

followed the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which is an international standard – and it implemented UNICEF-inspired policy dictating that a family within the country, preferably a relative, should be sought before international families.

Today when asked who her mother is, Silvia points to an orphanage caretaker, and says, beaming, “Mama Nico.” A slight, pretty girl, Silvia flashes four stubby fingers when asked her age: “Cuatro.”

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