Looking for Love

Date: 1999-01-24
Source: Brazzil
They stick around waiting for any kind of attention. Some will ask for a kiss or a hug. They are all waiting to be adopted and they seem to consider each caring gesture as a sign that they might get a home and a family. Then, a bigger kid asks the visitor: "Do you have a home?" What would you answer?

by Janaina Gimael

The Secretaria de Assistência Social (Social Assistance Department), an organ from the Brazilian social security service, estimates that there are 200,000 Brazilian children waiting to be adopted. The majority are not white and are boys. This is the opposite profile wished for by Brazilians who, in general, want white baby girls. Until recently the only hope for these children was to be adopted by a foreigner. Today many institutions are encouraging all kinds of adoption and in particular, the more difficult ones.

Most of the kids waiting in line to be adopted were born by chance. Due to many reasons, their parents, who in many cases are just a mother with no support from her boyfriend or husband, abandoned them. At this moment, they are waiting for a new family to rebuild or even build a sense of familiar union. The first scene a visitor sees when he visits an orphanage, temporary shelter or another kind of social institution is unforgettable. Not only are there very small babies, but also children who are almost teenagers and have contradictory behaviors.

They stay around the visitor, apparently waiting for any kind of attention. Some of them ask for a kiss or a hug. They seem to consider each caring gesture as a sign that they might go away with the visitor. On the other hand, there are children who keep their distance. It seems that their small eyes are carrying such suffering that they do not have hope that someone will come to help them. Suddenly, one of the oldest asks: "Do you have a home?" It is hard to know exactly what to say, even knowing that they already know the answer.

To understand the process of adoption in Brazil and its consequences, it is necessary to remember that we are talking about a country that is a champion in social inequalities and where thousands of people do not have access to the bare minimum for survival. The act of abandoning a child has in its roots a serious economic problem, which goes together with no official policy of teaching about the importance of the family.

This is a very old problem, which has been plaguing the country since the eighteenth century. In 1726, the state of Bahia started a practice known as roda dos expostos (wheel of the exposed ones). This procedure, which started in some European countries in the 17th century, was designed to protect the abandoned babies from dangers like pigs and dogs, which used to live on the streets in those times. It was a contraption installed on the external wall of some buildings where the mothers could leave the babies they could not take care of. There was a hole inside the wheel where the child was put into.

Nurses and sisters would take the children and place them in some social institution. Since 1825 the Santa Casa de Misericórdia, a charity institution created in 1498 by Queen Leonor de Lancastre, in Lisbon, Portugal, and exported to Brazil, took over the care of such Rodas, which had a bell so the policeman on duty could take the child to a safe place. The first Santa Casa in Brazil was opened in Olinda, Pernambuco, in 1539. There are close to 500 of these institutions around the country today and they still care for the poor children.

Nowadays, children are left in every kind of place. Even inside public bathrooms and garbage cans. And what happens to these kids? When a story of abandonment is told in the media many couples show interest in adopting the baby. In most cases, however, nobody knows when a child is abandoned and to complicate matters when a baby is abandoned and its family disappears, the legal process of adoption tends to be very slow. It is necessary to get approval from the natural parents to formalize the adoption and there is a lot of bureaucracy involved in the whole process.

The first step to adopt a Brazilian child is to file an application with the Vara da Infância e da Juventude (Child and Youth Court) where the interested person will be interviewed. In Brazil, anyone who is at least 21 years old can adopt, as long as there is a difference of at least 16 years of age between this person and the child. Gay couples cannot adopt children legally in the country. The discussion about the theme is frequent but the complexity of the question indicates that the issue will not be settled soon.

Until 1988 an adopted child in Brazil did not have the same legal rights as a natural one. But this situation began to change with the adoption of the 1988 constitution, which established that natural or adopted children have exactly the same rights. Since July 1990, children in the country have better legal protection through the Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente ( Child and Adolescent Statute).

The international adoption process is similar to the national one. The foreign citizen must file an application with the Comissão Estadual Judiciária de Adoção Internacional (International Adoption Judiciary State Commission). There is no restriction on age, civil status or religion to file a petition. The process of adoption, which includes medical and psychiatric exams, can take from one to six months. There are no fees charged by the courts for prospective parents, but procedures among different judges vary widely. The costs associated with the process are smaller than in other countries and have to do with travel expenses, document translations and legal fees. Once the request is approved, the foreigner can apply to adopt the chosen child at the Vara da Infância e da Juventude. Final approval is made by local, state and federal courts around the country and not by a centralized authority. There are always many children waiting to be adopted and the wait period to take the child home is a short one.

In theory anyone, Brazilian or not, over 21 may adopt a child, but often judges prefer Brazilians over foreigners and some states also give preference to Brazilian citizens despite the questionable legality of such arrangements. There is no adoption by proxy in the country and prospective parents need to go pick up their new children.

Who can be adopted? According to the law, children whose parents have died, kids who were abandoned or whose single mothers relinquished their parental rights. Also children taken out of their homes by the courts due to mistreatment by their parents or guardian.

While the courts in the states of Santa Catarina, São Paulo, Paraná and Pernambuco are known to be more lenient towards foreigners, the same is not true in the states of Rio de Janeiro or Rio Grande do Sul. Since 1993 Pernambuco has a centralized list of parental candidates, which is maintained by Ceja (Comissão Estadual Judiciária de Adoção—State Judiciary Commission for Adoption).

Foreigners need to reside with a prospective adoptive child under the age of two for at least 15 days and for a minimum of 30 days with those older than two before they are allowed to take a child overseas. Children will not be allowed out of the country without presenting a written authorization by both parents or by a Family Court judge in the case of an orphan or abandoned child.

Stories

We had a chance to meet Mary and Joseph Peterson (the names of parents and children cited in this article were changed in order to preserve the interviewees identities), an English couple. Their first contact with Brazil came with the arrival of a Brazilian student in their home. Ana went to England to study English and became a friend of the family. When she came back to Brazil they decided to visit her and also to adopt a Brazilian child, something they were planning for some time.

With Ana and her mother's help, Mary and Joseph, who could not have babies, adopted a very pretty girl named Susan. Everything was done through the legal process and the Brazilian-English citizen, who is a teenager today, has already come back to Brazil and loves it very much.

Sometimes the adoption process occurs in a different way as in the story between Luísa, 47, and Juliana, 7. In this case it began when the girl was in her mother's belly. Luísa is single and always wanted to have a child. One day, a woman who worked in her home as a maid, told her that she was pregnant but could not have the baby. Luísa decided to give her support so the woman would carry on with the pregnancy. At the end, the natural mother went away, letting her adopt the baby. Luísa registered the child as her own daughter.

Juliana does not know the entire story though. She thinks her natural mother is in heaven, looking after her. "I don't want another mother", she says, "I just want the mother who is here with me". Luísa says that Juliana had some small physical problems when she was a newborn baby. "We had some problems because she was not breast-fed. She suffered from terrible colic and used to cry a lot". Since Luísa's family is Italian, Juliana grew up speaking Portuguese and Italian. The girl even has Italian citizenship. "All that she knows is that I love her very much", concludes Luísa.

It's not uncommon for Luísa and Juliana to have to struggle against prejudice. It is undeniable that mother and daughter are very different physically. While Luísa is blond with blue eyes, Juliana is tawny as most Brazilian children available for adoption are. But this doesn't seem to worry them.

"Adopting is an act of love, which involves responsibility and conscience that, when someone assumes a child born from other parents, this person is assuming a real son or daughter," says Maria Angelina Spada, a sociologist and the mother of an adopted child.

Some institutions work helping people who are interested in adopting. They can supply information about this issue and offer support. It can be useful to be in contact with some of them. It is important to check the fitness of each one, as well. Many illegal cases of adoption, mainly the international ones, are caused by institutions that are not honest. You have to be careful when the whole process of adopting is very easy and quick.

In a few cases the children offered have families who want them. An infamous case about adopted children has to do the Mães de Jundiaí (Mothers of Jundiaí), about 34 women from the interior of São Paulo whose children were taken overseas to be adopted without their parents permission. Judge Luiz Beethoven Giffoni Ferreira, who authorized the adoptions, was informed that the children were victims of mistreatment but nothing was proved. Some of the children were never heard from before being sent to other countries. This has stirred a nationwide debate and is not an isolated case.

On the Net

The adoption process can be done through the Internet. One such place is Limiar (http://www.limiar.org ) based in the United States. The site presents short profiles of Brazilian children waiting for an adoptive home. Rafael & Ana Priscila are presented as "handsome Latin-appearing brother and sister, 7 & 8, healthy, in school, loving, communicative, who likes to play." There is also Romonier, a "biracial boy of 4 years with kinky, blonde hair. Romonier has arthrogryposis affecting his legs and feet and lazy eye. Much vitality and joie de vivre. Adores any and all attention, loves to somersault and show how fast he can move along the ground. Needing surgery now but not possible in Brazil for many years to come."

Limiar presents itself as having placed over 900 Brazilian children with adopted parents since 1981 and as an organization that seeks no contact with the biological family of the child, but only with the Brazilian courts. They promise to provide prospective adoptive parents with a photo, measurements, social history, medical information, and a video clip of the child.

This process can be costly though. It includes a $5500 donation ($8000 for siblings), $100 for an application, $750 for document translation and $500 for registration. Besides, there are also expenses with home study, authentication of documents, airfare, hotel and food, visas, the child's passports and medical examination. According to Limiar these costs will be considerably less than for most similar international adoption programs because no money goes to an orphanage, judge or lawyer.

Janaina Gimael, 20, is Brazilian. She studies journalism and is the editor of Rascunho ( http://users.sti.com.br/jgam/index.html ), a Portuguese e-zine You can contact her by e-mail: jgam@sti.com.br



CONTACTS
Addresses of Institutions dealing with adoption as compiled by Projeto Criança (Child Project) from the Psychology Department of Universidade Federal do Paraná

Associação Brasileira Terra dos Homens

Rua General Polidoro, 183 sala 502 - 22290-000 - Rio de Janeiro, RJ; Tel/Fax: (021) 275-3168; Caixa Postal 18092; 80811-970 Curitiba-PR; e-mail: abth@fst.com.br

Associação de Pais e Filhos Adotivos de Araçatuba - Apfa

Rua do Fico, 420 - Santana - 16055-050 - Araçatuba, SP; Tel: (018) 622-3933

Associação de Pais Adotivos de Campinas - Apa

Headquarters: Rua Rafael da Rosa 187 - 13093-491 - Campinas, SP. Mailing address: Av. Princesa D'Oeste, 1295/152 - 13026-430 - Campinas, SP; Tel: (019) 872-2508 and 874-4564

Associação de Pais Adotivos de Campos

Rua Teixeira de Freitas, 150 - Campos dos Goytacazes/RJ 28040-390

Escola de Pais do Brasil

Rua Bartira, 1094 - 05009 - São Paulo, SP; Tel: (041) 224-3036/(011) 3862-9508

Grupo Adote

Av. Calógeras, 1625 - 79004-000- Campo Grande, MS; Tel: (067) 383-5779

Grupo de Apoio à Adoção de Campina Grande

Rua Ricardo Wagner da Silva Paes, 200/1º; andar - 58109-110 - Campina Grande, PB; Tel: (083) 333-2004

Grupo de Apoio à Adoção de Itapetininga - Gaadi

Rua Campos Sales, 554 A, sobreloja - 18200-000 - Itapetininga, SP; Tel: (015) 271-9049; e-mail: gaadi@ebras.com.br

Grupo de Estudos e Apoio à Adoção de Joinville

Caixa Postal 811 - Fórum Governador Ivo Silveira - Setor Serviço Social - 89201-972 - Joinville, SC

Grupo de Apoio à Adoção de Londrina

Rua la Paz 49 - Parque Guanabara - 86050-080 - Londrina, PR; Tel: (043) 329-9955 and (043) 337-2505

Grupo de Apoio à Adoção de Ribeirão Preto

Rua Visconde de Inhaúma, 959, 14010-100, Ribeirão Preto, SP

Grupo de Apoio à Adoção de Rio Claro

Caixa Postal 470 - 13500-970 - Rio Claro, SP; Tel: (0195) 24-6542 and 34-5165

Grupo de Estudos e Apoio à Adoção de Barra Mansa - Aconchego

Av. Domingos Marino 83, sala 906 - 27345-120 - Barra Mansa, RJ; Tel: (0243) 22-4921/22-6065; e-mail: nana.cristina@sidenet.com.br

Grupo de Estudos e Apoio à Adoção do Acre

Caixa Postal 1502 Rio Branco/AC - 69912-970; Tel: (068) 226-3661

Grupo de Estudos e Apoio à Adoção de Florianópolis - Geaaf

Largo São Sebastião, 88 sl 21 - 88015-560 - Florianópolis, SC; Tel: (048) 233-3677/223-6320 - Home page: http://www.portadig.com.br/geaaf - e-mail: geaaf@portadig.com.br

Grupo de Estudos e Apoio à Adoção de Porto Velho

Av. Feliz Cidade, 968 Nacional - 78903-400 - Porto Velho, RO

Grupo de Estudos e Apoio à Adoção de Recife - Gead Recife

Rua Pio IX, 384 - Torre - 50710-260- Recife, PE; Tel: (081) 441-2083 and 963-3911; e-mail: schettin@elogica.com.br

Grupo de Incentivo e Apoio à Adoção da Região de Ourinhos

Rua Gastão Vidigal, 476 - 19900-000 - Ourinhos-SP; Tel: (014) 322-4206 and 322-2406; e-mail: santiago@ourinhos.com.br

Grupo de Pais Adotivos de João Pessoa

Caixa Postal 5121 - 58051-970 João Pessoa, PB; Tel: (083) 235-2342

Mães do Coração

Rua Francisco Polito, 332 - Vila Prudente - 03137-010, São Paulo, SP; Tel: (011) 278-5759

Projeto Acalanto

Rua Ferdinando Rutini, 359 - 05143-240 - São Paulo, SP; Tel: (011) 835-4002

Projeto Acalanto de Natal - Pan

Rua Jornalista Djair Dantas, 1382 - Lagoa Seca - 59033-370; Tel: (084)221-5750/217-3192-Natal, RN; e-mail: pan@digi.com.br

Projeto Aconchego - Brasília

Caixa Postal 4713 - 72401-970 - Gama, DF; Tel: (061) 394-4102/394-5443 and 974-6012

Projeto Amor

Av. Dr. D. T. Gallo, 27 - 1880-000 - Pirajuí/SP

Projeto Criança

Departamento de Psicologia da UFPR - Praça Santos Andrade, 5- Tel: (041) 310-2625 http://www.brasil.terravista.pt/Ipanema/2172 E-mail: lidiaw@uol.com.br

Projeto Gerar

Av. Rogério Weber, 2396 Porto Velho - RO; Tel:(069)224-1135/224-1085

Projeto Monte Refúgio

Caixa Postal 9090, São Paulo - SP - 01065-970 - Tel: (011) 224-0605 and 468-6495 and 224-4658

Projeto Opção

Av. São Francisco, 260 - 75110-810 - Anápolis-GO; Tel: (062) 321-2198 and 234-6741

Projeto Recriar: Família e Adoção

Rua Napoleão Lopes, 40 - ap. 11 - 80530-090 - Curitiba, PR; Tel: (041) 252-5162

Documents required:
All foreign documents must be translated into Portuguese as well as certified and authenticated.

Copy of marriage certificate for those married

At least two letters of recommendation

Power of attorney when using a lawyer

An agency application with name of child when dealing with an agency

Police clearance from the prospective parents' town

Passport-size photos of adopting parents

Physician's clearance

Proof of economic condition

Psychological and sociological home study done by accredited agency

Copy of license of agency performing the study

Copy of the country or state adoption laws

Brazilian Embassy in the U.S.

Consular Section

3009 Whitehaven St. NW

Washington, D.C. 20008

Tel: (202) 745-2828

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