The arrest of six women in Mexico over an alleged child trafficking ring is a reminder of the potential for organized criminal groups to get involved in the adoption business across the region.
The Associated Press reports that six women in Jalisco state, Mexico, have been arrested in connection to a smuggling ring which planned to deliver babies to Irish couples. Authorities took at least 10 children into custody.
It is unclear from the initial investigation whether the children held by the smuggling ring were abducted without their parents' knowledge. A local law firm, Lopez Lopez y Asociados, was reportedly handling the fraudulent adoptions. One of the detained women said that she was paid $500 to allow the law firm to take custody of her baby for two weeks for an advertising campaign.
Corruption within the adoption industry is not a new problem in Mexico or Central America. Smugglers take advantage of the demand in countries like the US, where 11,000 international adoptions were processed in 2010 and 9,320 in 2011. Central America is a particularly attractive region for US adoptions because it is geographically close and because cases tend to be processed faster than in China or Russia, which also have large adoption industries. Growing demand in Europe also helped the industry expand on a global scale, with about 40,000 children from developing countries adopted by foreigners in 2006, up from 22,200 in 2005, according to a report by Brandeis University.
The industry is most deeply entrenched in Guatemala. At one point, one in every 100 Guatemalan children were adopted by US families. But there were so many cases of fraud that the two countries halted the practice in 2007. Since then, the US has eased regulations regarding pending cases. According to journalist Erin Siegal, who has covered the issue extensively, there are some 300 adoption cases from Guatemala that are still in limbo.
Other countries in the region, including Brazil, Peru and Honduras, have at one time halted US adoptions due to concerns over child smuggling. But this tightening of has created something like a "bubble" effect: as adoption regulations become stricter in one region, the industry shifts to another country with more lax laws.
As the incident in Mexico illustrates, law firms are frequently involved in engineering these fraudulent adoptions. As Siegel points out, in the case of Guatemala, lawyers and other wealthy, upper class individuals are typically involved in adoption fraud, which has given significant political clout to adoption lobbying groups. In turn, this has made it difficult to pass stricter regulations for adoption procedures in the country.