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Exposed: Stolen babies for sale; Newborn tots snatched from their mothers and auctioned to parents in Ireland and around the world.

IRISH parents are at the centre of an international probe into a baby-trafficking ring which stole children and sold them to childless couples.

It has emerged that thousands of Guatemalan babies were wrenched from their peasant mothers to supply a lucrative adoption trade to rich Western couples.

Fears are now growing that Irish parents are among foreign couples tricked into adopting babies abducted by crooked South American lawyers.

The sick gang are alleged to have taken the children at birth and conned their distraught mothers into believing their children had died by producing fake death certificates.

Ireland is being included in the massive investigation into the sick trade.

One in 10 of all foreign adoptions in this country since 1991 came from Guatemala.

Crooked

Seventy-two children were brought back to Ireland from the South American country over the last three years alone and legally adopted.

A gang of 21 crooked lawyers have now been exposed as baby-traders who paid gangs to steal children from families in poor shanty towns.

A top children's rights activist said last night the traders hired young women to pose as mothers as part of the sick scam.

The Secretary of the Adoptive People's Association, Patricia Murray, said Ireland should stop adoptions from Guatemala immediately.

"Women were being paid tiny sums of money to pretend they were the real baby's mother and sign the consent forms," she said.

"This was the way parents were conned into believing that the children were given up by their mothers.

"Hospital officials have also been exposed as part of the scam. They were bribed to tell young girls in Quatemalan hospitals that their baby had died at birth. A false death certificate would be given to the girl and she would be told to get on with things.

"Most of these mothers were illiterate and very poor and believed the doctors when they told them the children were dead.

"The lawyers who have been publicly named and charged with abduction and other offences in Quatemala also paid gangs to steal children in Mexican shanty towns and bring them across the border.

"When they came across they would be given new identities and put forward for foreign adoptions."

Irish parents and other desperate couples from the United States and American fork out a minimum fee of $10,000 to get the child of their dreams.

Trial

The scam is now being investigated by the Attorney General in Guatemala and the lawyers are facing trial.

All adoptions since 1997 - including 72 to Irish couples - are under investigation.

Ms Murray said it would have been easy to fool childless couples that their adoption was above board.

"Adoption in Guatemala is one of the most lax in the world.

"Basically the lawyer goes to court and tells the judge that both sets of papers are in order.

"He would have had various papers from the Irish couples proving they had been approved by the Adoption Board and other papers proving they were Irish citizens.

"The lawyer would also say that he had papers proving that the parents had given the child up for adoption of their own free will.

"The courts totally trust the lawyers and take their word that everything is above board because they are agents of the court

"There is no proof of any wrongdoing by Irish couples but it would be naive to think that all the Irish couples escaped this horrific practice.

"The parents would be the innocent parties as well as the children.

"If you want to adopt a child from Guatemala at the moment you just find out the name of a solicitor and ring him up and arrange it. It costs between $10,000 and $15,000.

An Irish Mirror investigation previously revealed that an American agency who had applied for permission to set up in Ireland through a Galway agent charged $15,000 for a Guatemalan adoption.

It was the highest on a list of prices for babies offered to couples by the Maine Adoption Placement Service.

A United Nations report on the massive baby trade concluded that legal adoption in Guatemala was the exception rather than the rule.

Tests

The United States has brought in compulsory DNA testing on the birth mothers and the babies to make sure they are related.

The Adoptive People's Association last night called on Children's Minister Frank Fahy to bring in similar tests for Irish couples to make sure they aren't fooled into bringing home a stolen child.

Ms Murray also called on the government to ratify the Hague Convention which outlaws the sale, trafficking and abduction of children.

"We need to ratify the convention immediately. It would provide protection for the children and would ensure that we only deal with countries who are also part of the convention.

"It will also provide reassurance to prospective parents that adoptions will be effected to the highest ethical standards."
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 16, 1998
Words:818
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