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GUATEMALA CITY _ Angela Gabriela De Leon is one of the lucky ones.
In January 1997, the Guatemalan cleaning woman, still heavily medicated after giving birth by Caesarian surgery, was coerced _ by no less than her husband _ into signing away her baby to a lawyer who arranges international adoptions. De Leon managed to get her daughter back after a two-year court battle. Her victory in Guatemala was rare _ most women in her situation, often illiterate and poor, either assume nothing can be done or don't know how to fight the system.
Child robbery is extraordinarily commonplace here.
This impoverished republic is the fourth-largest exporter of children in the world, a ranking sustained by often ruthless means. According to a recent U.N. investigation, the majority of international adoptions out of Guatemala are illegal.
In a damning March 31 report to the United Nations' Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Ofelia Calcetas-Santos, a special U.N. investigator, said Guatemalan babies have been reduced to "objects of trade and commerce."
Her findings: High-ranking lawyers, doctors and judges in Guatemala are involved in all aspects, from falsifying birth records to tricking or drugging illiterate birth mothers into signing over their babies.
They are motivated by the lucrative profits that flow out of the baby trade.
Adoptive American parents typically pay about $15,000, said Mario Taracena Diaz-Sol, a Guatemala City attorney and advocate for international adoption law reform. He says about $13,000 goes to the lawyer brokering the deal. Another $1,000 is a "finder's fee," paid to women who convince expectant mothers to give up their …