This week, Nancy Bailey, an American woman who opened and managed a home for children in Guatemala, is being tried on child trafficking charges. She has been imprisoned in Guatemala since October 2016.
According to Public Radio International, Nancy Bailey first visited Guatemala in the 1990s as a volunteer at a Catholic orphanage. She started a school there as part of the orphanage program. And then one day, a man approached her, asking her to take care of an infant whose mother had died. She adopted the child.
Shortly after that experience, Bailey decided to open a home for needy children. That was the beginning of Semillas de Amor, or Seeds of Love.
Nancy Bailey told NPR that word quickly spread about her home, and it began filling with children. “We had children left at our doorstep in a basket. We had birth mothers who came to us while they were pregnant asking if they could place their child for adoption.” They housed children with special needs, children who were HIV positive, sibling groups, and more.
Bailey’s work was focused on caring for the children and finding them adoptive homes, if possible. She says her program was funded by the foster care fees being paid by adoptive parents who had been matched with children in her home. “The children that were able to be adopted paid for those kids that either were going to have to wait a long time or were never going to be adopted,” she explained.
Between the years of 1997 and 2013, Bailey arranged hundreds of international adoptions. It was during this time that international adoptions from Guatemala became prolific. In 2007, 4,727 children were adopted from Guatemala into American families. This was a tremendous increase from a few hundred children a year during the 1990s.
During this time, the adoption system in Guatemala became rife with corruption. Women were being paid to place their children for adoption. Children were being kidnapped at sold to orphanages. Because of these issues, the Guatemalan government closed international adoptions in 2008.
Bailey states that she was never involved in any illegal activities related to adoption. She maintains that she was simply working to help children find families. While she admits that there were often irregularities in the paperwork of the adoptions she facilitated, she attributes these irregularities to a lack of adequate documentation within the country–birth and death certificates were often difficult to come by, if they even existed.
Nevertheless, authorities say that they have good evidence that Bailey was involved in kidnapping children and charging high fees for their adoptions. Bailey refutes this, stating that a disgruntled former employee set her up.
Both Bailey and her son, Joel Peters, are concerned about the likelihood of her getting a fair trial in Guatemala. Says Peters, “To be blunt, my mom didn’t make any friends [in the Guatemalan government]. She fought hard and legally to protect those kids and that made a lot of people angry. I do think that there are certain people in the government that would love nothing more than to point a finger at an American to say, oh, look, they come down here and they do this, they take advantage and they take their kids.”
His mother adds that her concerns are rooted in the difficult history that Guatemala has with adoption. She says in Guatemala, “anything that even reeks of adoption is bad. You’re guilty.”
Supporters of Nancy Bailey have created a page outlining her situation and requesting that people reach out to their representatives, asking them to work with the Guatemalan government to ensure a fair trial.