MEXICO CITY (AP) — Guatemala has issued a decree that could speed up dozens of adoptions by U.S. couples that have been stuck in limbo since the Central American country suspended adoptions in 2007 amid allegations of fraud and even baby theft.
The decree says that parents whose adoptions were halted midway by the ban can complete the process if they prove a "prolonged" relationship with the child and that they were not responsible for any fraud, among other requirements. The possibility of a domestic adoption must also be ruled out.
But it might not go far enough to solve all pending cases, says Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who will visit Guatemala this week to, among other things, push to expand the program to more U.S. adoptive parents.
One goal of the trip "is to establish that there are approximately 400 families still in transition, and to work out a process so that each of those cases can be resolved, and that includes the 44 that are subject to this immediate accord," Sen. Landrieu told The Associated Press on Sunday.
She said that the decree may include more than 44 cases, although those are certain to be resolved, and perhaps even in the next few weeks. The decree, which was issued Friday, states that it will remain in effect for one year.
The senator added that 900 unresolved cases in 2007 have already been reduced to about 395.
The U.S. State Department is also sending its Special Advisor for Children's Issues to Guatemala this week, where she will consult with the government on the decree.
"We are pleased to see progress toward the resolution of these pending cases," said State Department spokesperson Beth Gosselin.
Guatemala's quick adoptions once made it a top source of children for the U.S., leading or ranking second only to China with about 4,000 adoptions a year.
But the adoptions were suspended in late 2007 as a result of widespread fraud, including falsified paperwork, fake birth certificates and charges of baby theft. The $100 million-a-year industry had been managed mostly by lawyers with little government oversight. Though the country still allowed many adoptions already in process, hundreds remain unresolved.
The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, a U.N.-created agency prosecuting organized crime cases in Guatemala, reviewed more than 3,000 adoptions completed or in process and found nearly 100 grave irregularities.
Guatemala later announced a small, reformed program of international adoptions in 2009.
That pilot program, however, has yet to get off the ground, says Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the nonprofit Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. She is also traveling to Guatemala this week.
The United States initially expressed interest in participating in the program but later declined, saying that more safeguards for children need to be put in place.