by Maite Garmendia
María Antonia, barely 2 years old, plays at the doorway of her home in El Plantón, a village of Palencia. She is happy and carefree as any child of her age although she is not conscious of the suffering, desperation and unhappiness her family has experienced recently. She is unaware that she has been the central figure of one of those well-known stories involving child kidnapping, evidencing the need for a regulating entity and specific legislation in the area of adoptions in Guatemala.
“We were deceived”, says Raúl de Jesús Pineda, her father, when asked about what happened. “Around September 2003 my wife became very ill and a neighbour, accompanied by a married couple, came to help us. The couple offered us some money and said they would care for our baby girl – six months old at the time - while my wife was in the hospital”, explains Raúl, father of 9 children.
Raúl and his wife Petrona believed in the good intentions of the couple and allowed them to take María Antonia as long as they would get to see the little girl whenever they wished and that she would come home when her mother had recovered. “What a terrible mistake... We only saw the little girl once. They never answered our phone calls and we began to suspect that something was wrong. The neighbour who brought the couple to our home said she knew nothing”, com-ments Raúl.
The search begins
“I went straight to the police and reported the case, then I went to the Court of Peace and the case finally reached the Prosecutor´s Office”, recalls María Antonia’s father. He felt the case was stagnated.
“Unable to read, only God guided me. I went from one place to another seeking for help to keep on fighting”, says Raúl. And so he got in contact with the legal office of an international NGO which receives support and assistance from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in the area of child protection.
“We gave legal support and follow-up to the judicial decision of the Prosecutor´s Office. It was believed that the family had “sold” the child. Nevertheless, anyone who had seen the little girl’s father on his regular visits to the capital city to enquire about his daughter and to learn about the legal proceedings to find her would know that this was not the case”, recalls Dinora Echeverría, lawyer from the NGO.
Through the support and intervention of this non-governmental organisation, the child was finally found. “The Police went to the house of the neighbour who knew the couple who had María Anto-nia, and the little girl was finally found in May 2004. The child was placed in a shelter until the court heard the parties involved and determined the case”, indicated Dinora Echeverría.
The little girl’s parents had to their advantage that although the couple wanted to keep the child they never bothered to obtain the necessary documentation to legalise the adoption, thus being unable to prove that the little girl was theirs.
“We never signed anything because we did not want to give our little girl away”, says Raúl. The couple visited El Plantón on three occasions to persuade Raúl and Petrona to sign some papers while María Antonia was still in the shelter and audiences were being held at the court. “One may not be knowledgeable of many things but we are not so ignorant. Besides, we had been warned that the family would probably insist on keeping the little girl. When they came for the third time requesting us to sign the papers, our only option was to use profane language and to throw them out” recalls Petrona.
August 9 was the happiest day for these parents –“it was like watching María Antonia being born again” says her mother - the court decided to return the little girl to her biological parents. “It was wonderful for the whole family to be all together again. Poverty is not a reason for parents to decide to give away their children... it is certainly difficult to raise them but we are prepared to do anything for their sake”, declares Raúl.
Dinora Echeverría shares that the end of this story was not so satisfying. Even though the child was returned to her parents, no process was initiated against the couple who tried to take the little girl away. There is still much to be done in the area of adoptions. Efforts are being made by national and international entities, like UNICEF. We are moving forward”.