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The Deeply Troubled Past and Present of Inter-country Adoptions from Nations in Conflict and Chaos

12:04 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Karen Smith Rotabi for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On July 5, 2012 Argentinean General Jorge Rafael Videla was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his role in crimes against humanity during the “Dirty War,” (1976-1984) including illegal child adoptions. The seven year conflict resulted in the deaths of at least 30,000 people. The grotesque history includes the forcible disappearance of pregnant women who were believed to be political dissidents. Upon giving birth, the mothers were executed and their babies were adopted by families connected to military and government leadership. Many children unknowingly grew up in military families only to later learn the horrifying truth. These children have been called the “living disappeared” and, in time and with the technology of DNA tests, some of these young adults have been reunited with their extended families.

Abuelas of the Plaza Mayo is an activist group of grandmothers (abuelas) who have protested in the Plaza Mayo of Buenos Aires for many years. They have persisted in seeking justice and truth in the names of their children who were executed and their infant grandchildren who disappeared during the conflict. The Abuelas cause is known worldwide for effective and persistent human rights activism; some of the grandmothers are now in their 80s and 90s and they continue to press on for truth and family reunion. Slowly but surely, the grandmothers have not only linked families lost from each other, but they have also advocated for the legal prosecution of war criminals implicated in these crimes. To date, General Rafael Videla is the highest ranking official to finally be sentenced appropriately for role in the atrocities. In fact, symbolically this is a huge win as Rafael Videla was the defacto president of the nation from 1976-1981.

This conviction occurs after a number of legal victories in recent years. In 2008 there was another high profile case in which an adoptee charged her adoptive parents with kidnapping. Maria Eugenia Sampallo’s case against her ‘adoptive parents’ gained international press attention when her ‘parents’ were sentenced to seven-eight years for the illegal adoption. The military officer involved in the case received a ten-year sentence.  To this day, other cases continue to garner attention in the media.

Truth and reconciliation is a complicated matter after mass disappearances. Sadly, El Salvador shares a similar history and the reunification of adopted children with their biological families is ongoing today through the work of Pro-Busqueda, a small non-governmental organization dedicated to search-and-find of the living disappeared children. Some of these children were adopted by families in other countries such as the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. Pro-Busqueda has reunited hundreds of adoptees with their families in El Salvador. Other countries, such as Guatemala, also have a similar history of seeking the truth for children adopted during the war years.

While there have been celebrations for family reunion, too many families still do not know what became of the living disappeared. However, in Argentina there is cause for a sign of relief as the General spends the rest of his life incarcerated for these crimes.  Now, the question is whether lessons from the past will inform the future of adoption practices in the context of chaos and conflict.

I worry about the Congo where inter-country adoption programs are now beginning to blossom. The bloody conflict in this nation (as well as other conflicts and chaos in Africa) require that adoptions must be processed with the greatest of care. I caution any individual or couple looking to adopt from a conflict or post-conflict nation. The unique dynamics of child sales in Africa are quite complicated — including current problems in Ethiopia. Beware of the history of atrocities and don’t become complicit because the “blinders” are quite profound once you enter the adoption process and become committed to a child. It is quite a difficult scenario.

Other families caught in the middle of adoption fraud have found themselves implicated in unthinkable crimes when they thought they were involved in rescuing a child. This is true for some families who adopted from Cambodia. The problems were so bad there that arrests and convictions of some adoption agency personnel took place in the United States. Prosecutions are a rare occurrence, and this case, entitled “Operation Broken Hearts,” illustrates the risks involved in inter-country adoption from conflict nations.

As recently as 2008, a child left post-conflict Guatemala as an ‘adoptee’ and in 2011 a Guatemalan court has ruled for the return of the child as a victim of abduction for adoption. That case remains in limbo as the U.S. adoptive family refuses to comply with a foreign court order. And, a Guatemalan family desperately awaits the return of their daughter. It is all very sad. Ultimately one can only imagine the pain that this young girl will experience as she becomes of age and learns of her own history of abduction, adoption, and the need for a personal search for the truth. For more about child abduction in Guatemala, see www.findingfernanda.com.

Argentina’s Supreme Court Permits Abortion in All Cases of Rape, But Access To Care Remains a Challenge

8:53 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Alia Al-Khatib for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On March 13, 2012, the Supreme Court in Argentina issued a decision in the case F., A. L. s/Medida autosatisfactiva, which clarified a woman’s right to obtain an abortion in all cases of rape.  This is particularly significant in a country where, according to an official estimate from the Health Ministry in Argentina, between 486,000 and 522,000 illegal abortions are performed annually. While this is an enormous achievement towards women’s access to safe and legal abortion in Argentina, ensuring that rape survivors are able to access abortion in practice represents an even greater challenge.

The decision emerged from a March 2010 case in the province of Chubut involving a 15-year-old girl, A. G., who was raped by her stepfather and became pregnant. With the support of her mother, A. G. sought an abortion by first requesting approval from the Criminal Court judge in the province. Due to an unclear understanding of the Penal Code in the lower courts of the province, she had to obtain authorization ultimately from the Superior Justice Court in Chubut, a process that lasted two months. A. G. was able to obtain an abortion, though only after a long period of delay and a great deal of unnecessary stress. Even when the pregnancy had already been terminated, the case proceeded to the Federal Supreme Court in order to seek clarification concerning the permissibility of abortion in certain circumstances.

According to Article 86 of the Argentine Penal Code, abortion is not punishable on two grounds: first, if the health or life of the mother is at risk and abortion is the only way to relieve this risk; second, if the pregnancy results from a rape or if the woman is mentally incapable of providing consent.  In this case, the Supreme Court considered the second clause. The Court determined that, in all cases of rape and not only in situations in which the woman is mentally incapable, a woman has not provided consent. For this reason, the Court provided an interpretation of the Penal Code that decriminalizes abortion in all cases of rape and that allows a rape survivor to obtain an abortion without the need for judicial proceedings. Furthermore, the Court made it clear that it is illegal to obstruct a rape survivor from exercising her right to abortion.

The Supreme Court’s decision is consistent with developments in international human rights law and standards. In one such case from July 2006, L. M. R. v. Argentina, L. M. R., a young woman with a mental age of between eight and ten years, became pregnant after being raped by her uncle. Though Article 86 of the Penal Code clearly permits abortion in this scenario, the public hospital initiated judicial proceedings to determine whether or not L. M. R. could terminate the pregnancy because staff members at the hospital disagreed as to whether she had grounds to do so. A juvenile court judge denied the abortion.

Following a series of appeals, the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires determined that L. M. R. could terminate the pregnancy based on the second clause of Article 86 of the Penal Code. Even after the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires issued this decision, the local hospital refused to perform the abortion and defended their position by claiming that the pregnancy was too advanced, though at the time L. M. R. was just under 20 weeks. With the help of local advocates, she ultimately obtained an illegal abortion in a private clinic. In March 2011, the Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights determined that denying L. M. R. an abortion violated her right to equality and non-discrimination embodied in the Covenant and that forcing her to continue with the pregnancy constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

The cases of L. M. R. and F., A. L. illustrate that, although the law provides for the right to abort in certain circumstances, women face many obstacles from anti-abortion legislators and judges, and even health providers who are meant to provide these services. Shortly after the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of F., A. L., the governor of Salta, a province in northern Argentina, announced that he would not comply with the Supreme Court’s decision. Similarly, the Health Minister in Santa Rosa, the capital of La Pampa province, stated that public hospitals would not abide by the decision. Though not surprising, the refusal of these provincial leaders to comply with the federal case is futile and only serves to delay the implementation of protocol for non-punishable abortion in rape cases. Furthermore, the Archbishop of Santa Fe denounced the decision in an interview with a national newspaper, La Nación, and stated that there never exists a justification for abortion, a statement that carries a great deal of weight in a country, like others in Latin America, that remains heavily influenced by the Catholic Church.

Such reactions to this particular case remind pro-choice advocates that this decision is only the first step in ensuring that rape survivors can access abortion and that there is even more work ahead for women to gain access to safe, voluntary, and legal abortion in Argentina. Moving forward, local advocates plan to urge provinces to implement protocols in hospitals so that the law is clear to health providers and to women seeking abortions.