Kadee Skaggs of Pleasant View says that during visits to Guatemala, she's fallen in love with Sawyer, a 13-month-old boy she's in the process of adopting.

If Skaggs could talk with Guatemala's first lady Wendy Widmann de Berger when she visits Utah this week, "I'd probably just ask that she keep the best interest of the child in mind."

The first lady, who heads Guatemala's social work office, plans to address the media, tour LDS facilities and meet with church officials today, as well as talk to students at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley State College, in a visit focused largely on humanitarian efforts.

She also will be honored Friday by Enterprise Mentors International, a group that helps families attain self-reliance through small-business activities, for her efforts to improve the quality of life for women and children.

But Skaggs is among Americans who, after becoming emotionally and financially invested in the adoption process, are worried about uncertainty in the Guatemalan system.

The Central American nation's congress enacted legislation that will bring Guatemala into compliance with the Hague Convention on International Adoption on Jan. 1. Currently in Guatemala, adoptions are agreements between attorneys and private adoption agencies and can be vulnerable to abuses. The Hague Convention is supposed to make the process more transparent by creating a government agency to oversee adoptions.

However, the Guatemalan congress hasn't yet voted on a bill that creates the agency and its funding, as well as about 80 other measures related to the law, says Tom DiFilipo, president of the NGO Joint Council on International Children's Services.

The lives of about 5,000 children hang in the balance: Their parents have abandoned them or relinquished rights to raise them. About 4,000 of those children have been matched to adoptive families such as the Skaggs.

The bill, which may be presented to the Guatemalan congress in November, could grandfather in the children, says Fernando de la Cerda, legal counselor for the Guatemalan Embassy in Washington, D.C.

He says the proposal is meant to bring Guatemala into compliance with the Hague Convention and would add transparency and new requirements to a system that has had "some irregularities."

De Berger arrived in Salt Lake on Wednesday. But Ron Gunnell of EMI said that the first lady wouldn't be available for interviews until a news conference today.

Julie Stewart, a sociology professor at the University of Utah who studies Guatemala, says many of the children up for adoption are "offspring of rural indigenous women who are typically illiterate."

Even if birth mothers can read, they likely do not understand legal language in adoption contracts, which can lead to misinformation, she says.

Guatemala is one of the top nations for international adoptions. Last year, the U.S. State Department issued visas to 4,135 Guatemalan children.

But Chareyl Moyes, Guatemala and Haiti program manager for the Ogden-based Wasatch International Adoptions, says the future of Guatemala adoptions is uncertain.

As she understands the Guatemala regulations, as of Jan. 1, that nation would only do adoptions with countries that are in compliance with the Hague Convention. The United States is scheduled to be in compliance later in the year.

Once the United States is in compliance with the Hague Convention, its residents may be prohibited from adopting from treaty nations not meeting the Hague requirements.

The U.S. State Department in June issued a statement recommending against adopting from Guatemala because of concerns about a lack of government oversight in Guatemala.

"When the convention enters into force for the United States in early 2008, the U.S. government will not be able to approve adoptions from Guatemala if Guatemala's adoption process does not provide the protections for children and families required by the convention," the statement said.


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