In a move that was long expected, the Supreme Court in Guatemala has officially removed the former head of a children's court who was accused of facilitating illegal adoptions. The judge's case highlights the critical role of corrupt officials in the networks behind a criminal trade that once thrived in the Central American country, and that some have suggested may be on the uptick again.
Judge Mario Fernando Peralta Castañeda was linked by authorities to at least 37 "anomalies" regarding adoption processes stemming from his time as head of the Court for Children and Adolescents in the province of Escuintla, reported Prensa Libre.
Specifically, Guatemalan authorities, working with a United Nations special investigative unit known as CICIG, said Peralta was "child laundering," a process whereby Peralta cleans or alters the records of the child being adopted to guarantee the biological parent cannot find the child again.
Peralta has been held in preventive custody since 2011, and is now scheduled to stand trial in October for conspiracy, trafficking, malfeasance, denial of justice, and forming a network with the intention of profiting from illegal adoptions, reported EFE.
InSight Crime Analysis
Over the years, Guatemala earned a reputation as a hub of illegal adoption, with many children going to live with parents from the United States. Guatemala and the US have since stopped facilitating adoptions due to the irregularities.
A 2010 analysis of over 3,342 adoption records by the CICIG found that over 60 percent of processes for adoption in the country have irregularities. According to the report, demand from abroad has led to the formation of networks that threaten and coerce mothers, or take advantage of their vulnerable situation to steal or illegally buy the children.
The networks involved operate along various links in the distribution chain, from taking children to the adoption agencies to finding prospective parents. Peralta's case demonstrates how a key node in these networks are the corrupt officials that can sign off on the paperwork and provide a façade of legitimacy to proceedings.
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Peralta is not the only high ranking official to become embroiled in an adoption scandal. In 2010, Attorney General, Conrado Reyes, was removed from his post after accusations of ties to illegal adoption networks and drug trafficking.
Despite efforts made by Guatemala's government to deal with child exploitation and trafficking, the United Nations has cited institutional fragmentation and lack of coordination as continuing factors impeding adequate child protection in the country. And in 2013, children's rights bodies warned of a rise in babies being taken from their homes in Guatemala and being sold to prospective parents from other countries for between $15,000 and $50,000.