Adoption shakedown – childless couple left without money and without baby

Last update – 11:32 13/03/2008

By Ruth Sinai, Haaretz Correspondent

They were married 10 years ago. When the wife couldn’t get pregnant she began fertility treatments.

“We underwent numerous treatments. Every time we asked about adoption we were told to try another treatment,” the husband says bitterly.

When they despaired and finally decided to adopt, they found that in Israel they would have to wait five years unless they agreed to adopt an older or handicapped child.

“We agonized over this and finally accepted the idea of adopting a foreign child,” the husband says.

They applied to each of the three large adoption agencies authorized to bring children from abroad: “They want you to sign a draconian contract, 99 percent of which is in their favor. They can cancel the deal over anything. They return your money but deduct $5,000. Every agency hints that there will be problems – that guy will need some bribing, they tell you.”

After they checked all their options they decided to adopt in Guatemala. “We’re Mizrahi. We didn’t want some blond child,” he says.

They felt the agency was concealing information from them about the process overseas and that they were being squeezed for money. The agency demanded $15,000 as an advance out of $20,000 that it was allowed to charge legally. He insisted on paying only $10,000 and the rest upon receiving the child.

They underwent examinations and tests, filled out forms, brought certificates and chose a child from photographs. They were told that in six months he would be their son.

After an aberration was found in the child’s blood tests, they went to the agency’s doctor. “We found that a doctor goes there to examine a number of children earmarked for adoption. We spoke to him and agreed to pay him $300. The agency called and said it costs $1,000,” he says.

But nothing prepared them for what was to come. Two years later they have still not seen the child. “We wanted a baby. Now he’s almost 3 years old. We’ve missed half of his life,” he says.

The couple fell victim to the Guatemalan government’s decision to nationalize the adoption process. This followed, among other things, suspicions that lawyers and agencies had been forcing women to give up their babies, or making deals with them to sell their babies.

For the past year Guatemala, whose adoption rate is among the highest in the world, has released almost no children for adoption. More than 4,000 American and a few dozen Israeli adopting parents are stuck in the middle of the process.

A decade has past since the Israeli law regulating adoption of children from overseas has come into effect. The law is intended to prevent human smuggling and trafficking. The Guatemala case shows that the law does not answer the needs of thousands of childless Israelis.

“Things are getting worse,” says Ruth Eldar, founder of the Humanikat international adoption agency.

The number of countries willing to give up children for adoption is getting smaller. Romania, which supplied hundreds of children to Israel, closed its gates when it joined the European Union. Other sources such as Moldova, Bulgaria, Belarus and Lithuania have also dried up.

China and the Philippines don’t want to send children to Israel due to the security situation and their resistance to the conversion process that the children are obliged to undergo. The attempt to adopt children from India failed, among other things because Israelis don’t usually want Indian children.

“There is no shortage of abandoned children, but countries don’t want them to be adopted outside their borders. It’s a matter of national pride,” says Eldar. “Perhaps the solution in the West is surrogate mothers.”

Most of the international adoption agencies have closed down after economic difficulties and the dwindling of foreign options. From 20 agencies 10 years ago only three are fully active today. Since the law has come into effect fewer than 1,000 children have been brought to Israel, mainly from Russia and Ukraine.