San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Reforms Proposed for Costa Rican Adoptions

COSTA Rican lawmakers may take another step toward protecting adopted children after last week’s debate in the Legislative Assembly over proposed reforms to the adoption law in the Family Code.

The reforms aim to put the Child Welfare Office (PANI) in the middle of the process for all adoptions in the country.

PANI should be able to participate “directly, dynamically and effectively,” in the process, according to the Legislative Assembly’s press release.

With a higher level of involvement in international adoptions, PANI would be able to broaden its research into potential adoptive families, help measure their psychological- social aptitude and, in the case of international adoptions, rule out the possibility of adoption within Costa Rica.

The Hague Convention on International Adoptions, to which child advocates say Costa Rica does not yet comply despite being a signatory to it, takes into account the psychological stress that could affect a child who is taken out of his or her culture and placed in another.

ACCORDING to the Hague Convention, the sudden change could deepen the child’s feeling of loss and could cause serious personality disorders. Also, international adoptions make follow-up counseling and professional attention nearly impossible for PANI officials.

For those reasons and others, the reforms will help regulate international adoptions and take into account the importance for adopted children of maintaining contact with their country of origin, as well the “right of each person to enjoy and grow within the family environment.”

The reforms would make PANI’s involvement in all adoptions obligatory and would more strictly regulate the international adoption process.

NOW, Costa Ricans and foreigners can adopt children here either through PANI in a government adoption, or through a lawyer who conducts the process before a judge, called direct adoption.

Since Jan. 1, the only judicial body with authority over the adoption proceedings of minors is the Children’s and Adolescents’ Court of the First Judicial Circuit in San José. Before that date, a number of courts throughout the country ruled on adoptions (TT Daily Page, Feb. 17).

Hilda Castro, president of the National Adoption Council, said the reforms would help guarantee the security of the adopted children and ensure they are adopted into good families.

Castro and Bruce Harris, of Casa Alianza child advocacy group, agreed that the former process opened the door to children’s rights violations and did not adequately consider the well-being of the child or the suitability of the adoptive family.

HARRIS says Casa Alianza is against direct adoptions, the kind the proposed reforms would change, “because they are susceptible to corruption.”

Castro said the legal reforms being discussed by Congress would make the rules of the Hague Convention apply not only to children who are adopted with the assistance of PANI, but to every child adopted in the country.

In accordance with the convention, PANI would become the country’s central adoption authority.

For many years, according to Castro, PANI has worked with experts from abroad, mainly from Italy and Spain, to improve the adoption process and ensure each child is taken into the best home possible. With that help, she said, the process in Costa Rica has improved significantly.

“FOR the moment, I’m satisfied,” Castro said. “But the decision that each parent makes to give up their child for adoption should be better advised, with more access to government aid and counseling. The children’s rights should be taken into account.”

However, those are not issues under discussion in the Assembly, and Castro said it would be difficult to get them on the table.

Deputy Elvia Nav arro of the CitizenAction Party said the proposed reforms “stipulate that adoptions of nationals by foreigners must be monitored, but make it necessary for Costa Rican children to be adopted preferably by Costa Ricans. There are a lot of people who make a large amount of money through adoptions and where is the follow-up? That is why it is necessary for PANI to monitor the process.”

Deputy Carlos Avendaño, from the Costa Rican Renovation Party, said that through the reforms he would like to rein in the idea that Costa Rica is a country favorable for the trafficking of people.

“A few months ago a Guatemalan group was discovered that tried, completely outside the law, to take some children out of the country,” he said. “That is what moves us to impose better regulation on the adoption process, especially the international adoptions.”

He referred to the discovery of nine Guatemalan babies held at an unregistered international adoption agency in La Uruca, San José, in September 2003.

Police and PANI raided the apartment where the agency was based, arrested seven suspects and took the babies into state custody (TT, Sept. 26, 2003).


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