US Couple Must Return Adopted Child to Guatemala, Judge Rules

A young girl at the center of an international custody battle was ordered removed from her adoptive parents in the US and may be sent back to her birth mother in Guatemala.

In making the ruling Wednesday, Guatemalan Judge Angelica Noemi Tellez Hernández sided with the mother and a human rights group that said the girl was stolen by a child trafficking run and put up for adoption.

The group, the Survivors’ Foundation, released a copy of the ruling Tuesday night, claims the girl was kidnapped in 2006 and taken out of the country under a new name two years later and was last known to be living in Missouri.

Tellez's ruling also says Guatemala's government must cancel the passport used to take the girl out of the country. It further orders that if the girl is not returned within two months, Guatemalan authorities should solicit help locating the girl from Interpol, the international police organization.

Nine Guatemalans, including a judge, have been charged in the case. The foundation doesn't allege the U.S. couple knew the girl had been kidnapped.

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The court identified the couple as Timothy James Monahan and Jennifer Lyn Vanhorn Monahan of Liberty, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City.

Attempts to reach the couple for comment were unsuccessful. An unidentified woman answering the door at the address listed by the court said she couldn't talk with an Associated Press reporter because she was on the phone. No one answered the door on a second attempt to reach the couple.

The ruling says the U.S. parents can appeal the ruling in Guatemalan courts and asks the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala to help locate the girl.

The embassy referred questions to the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, which had not responded to a request for comment by Wednesday evening.

Guatemala's adoption system once sent more than 4,000 children to the United States each year. But adoptions were suspended in 2007 amid widespread claims of kidnapping and fraud by suspect adoption brokers. Guatemala started a small, reformed program of international adoptions later but the United States has declined to participate.

Norma Cruz, of the Survivors' Foundation, said she believes this is the first time a Guatemalan court has ordered a child to be returned on the grounds that an adoption was fraudulent.

"We're working on two other cases and we hope for the same result," she said.

Cruz said the girl was born Oct. 1, 2004, and was stolen from outside the family's house in the town of San Miguel Petapa near the Guatemalan capital on Nov. 3, 2006. According to the foundation, the girl was then adopted in Guatemala and taken to the United States using a passport under a new name on Dec. 9, 2008.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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