Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

First Advisor

Humberto Fabelo


The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption was agreed upon in 1993 at the Hague Conference on Private International Law to address growing allegations of abduction, sale, and trafficking of children around the world. The Hague Convention guides countries to attend to the “best interest of the child” in making decisions on intercountry adoptions, and to apply the “principle of subsidiarity,” which calls for the consideration of family and kinship placement and national adoption prior to the consideration of intercountry adoption. This dissertation research focused on the experience of Guatemalan mothers reporting the abduction of their children for intercountry adoption. It examines implications for human rights and the child welfare system. In countries where child abduction allegations have been widespread, illegal adoption has been found to be a common practice and is the result of international child trafficking. Large financial gains are implicated in this type of organized crime, which appears to promote baby selling. In countries enacting the Hague Convention, the continuation of these allegations points to the governments’ inability to prosecute and penalize those responsible. Illegal adoptions pose significant threats to the ethical standards set by the Central Authorities established to implement the Hague Convention. Child abduction has been found to complicate and delay the determination of adoptability, and to undermine due process for legitimate intercountry adoptions. Child abduction has profound effects on grieving mothers and their families after the loss of their children with no resolution in sight. This constructivist research documents the story of three Guatemalan women who reported to public authorities the separate and unrelated abduction of their respective daughters in 2006. The case study report is a “thick description” of the lived experience of these mothers before, during, and after the child theft. The narration comprises an interpretation of their experience, or the participants’ meaning-making of such experience. Based on the mothers’ accounts, their victimization at the hands of child traffickers was followed by victimization by public authorities, who did not exercise due diligence in these child abduction cases. After these survivors exhausted their individual searches for their children, they approached the Fundación Sobrevivientes, who provided them with legal representation and psychosocial support. Together with other mothers, these women publicly advocated for their rights and the rights of their children. Their collective response to this form of violence was critical to accessing the case files in which they identified their abducted children. By engaging in individual legal claims, the participating mothers have sought nullification of each intercountry adoption and the prosecution of those involved in the corresponding illegal and corrupt activities. To conduct this constructivist inquiry, the researcher spent a year in Guatemala, completing prior ethnography for the emerging design and carrying out the interviews. This involved engaging participants with the researcher in a “dialectic hermeneutic process” through multiple “waves” of interviews (at the personal, practice, and policy levels), concluding with two phases of “member checking” or participants’ review of the research findings. To enhance rigor, besides analyzing the relevant literature, the process involved peer and translation reviewers and consultations with national and international scholars with relevant knowledge and expertise, including dissertation committee members. The four elements of the working definition of child abduction developed from the literature review (child theft, deceptive, coercion, and fraud) and other hypothesis on child abduction were confirmed in the mothers’ stories and by the research participants. The tentative findings or lessons identified in this constructivist inquiry should not be considered generalizable, but as “joint constructions” or co-creations between the research participants and the researcher. Based on general guidelines, the readers are encouraged to make their own assessment of the case report, and decide on whether the findings are relevant or may be replicable in other contexts.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2013

Included in

Social Work Commons