Geopolitics

Adoption Scandal: The Lost Children Of Guatemala

In recent years, authorities in Guatemala have tried to crack down on illegal child adoptions by foreigners. Corruption, however, is preventing the impoverished Central American country from eradicating the blight of child trafficking.

A boy in Guatemala (Renata Avila)
Vincent Taillefumier

Maria Leticia Ispaché spent just one night with her son, Christopher, after giving birth in Guatemala City's Roosevelt Hospital. Throughout the night she listened to his small hesitating cries. The next morning, one by one, the women next to her in the maternity ward room were allowed to leave with their newborns. "I was alone with my baby when a nurse arrived," she says. The stranger asked if the baby had already been vaccinated. She took the child and never came back. Leticia Ispaché alerted the hospital, the police and television channels. One year later, she says sadly: "We don't even have pictures to look for him."

Christopher has probably joined the horde of children who are the victims of adoption trafficking in Guatemala. In this country, 400 people under the age of 18 are stolen every year, according to the UN. "These acts are robberies or scams. The attackers take advantage of the poor, the Indians who can barely speak Spanish," says Freddy Coty, a lawyer and a member of a foundation called Sobrevivientes, which has followed several cases.

This practice emerged during Guatemala's drawn out civil war (1960-1996), when procedures were simplified for the numerous children orphaned by army massacres. This practice turned into a real industry following the 1996 peace accords. Over the past decade, an average of 5,000 children per year were adopted by foreigners. Most of those children end up in the United States. Guatemala, with its 14 million inhabitants, had become the world's number one child exporter.

Corruption and complicity

In 2007, Guatemalan authorities for the first time stiffened the country's adoption laws. Corruption, however, remains rampant, meaning children are still being shuttled out of the country under questionable circumstances. The trade is said to bring in $200 million a year.

Other efforts to further regulate adoption of Guatemalan children have been led by concerned interest groups. Sobrevivientes led a hunger strike in 2008 that pushed the government to suspend foreign adoptions altogether. And with the help of a UN judiciary body called the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), authorities are working to dismantle the networks that are thought to falsify at least six out of 10 adoption records. The networks are thought to include an army of scriveners, judges, doctors and directors of orphanages who falsify identities, DNA tests and photos.

"The intermediary American agencies like Celebrate Children International were aware of what was really going on," says Carolina Pimentel, a CICIG lawyer.

Today child trafficking has slowed but not disappeared. The country is considering a reform that would again give adoption agencies access to Guatemala. The reform would only benefit European agencies. In the meantime, individuals and associations are coming up with new tricks for adopting Guatemalan children. Some foreigners register their babies as biological children thanks to the help of crooked civil servants. And certain associations have been accused of sidestepping Guatemala's freeze on foreign adoptions by taking pregnant Guatemalan teenagers to give birth in neighboring El Salvador.

Today, nobody knows what happened to the "hundreds or thousands of children already stolen," says Sobrevivientes head Norma Cruz. Some have been located in the United States despite the use of false papers. Washington, however, turns a deaf ear when it comes to paternity tests.

Some mothers of these lost children say all they want is to know the truth. Freddy Coty recalls the words of one Guatemalan woman. "My daughter might have a better life abroad, but I would like to at least tell her that I didn't abandon her, that I wanted to raise her even if I'm living in poor conditions," she said.

María Leticia Ispaché has little hope of either finding her son Christopher, or of knowing exactly how he was whisked away from her. An investigation into his disappearance has not led anywhere.

Groups like Celebrate Children International, meanwhile, continue to operate – albeit not in Guatemala. Now, people can get in touch with the association to adopt children in Ethiopia.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Renata Avila

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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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