Brazil cracking down on illegal baby trade
ITAJAI, Brazil -- Federal police are cracking down on baby- trafficking rings that specialize in helping foreign couples adopt white-skinned, blue-eyed infants born among southern Brazil's large German-descended population.
Adoption by foreigners is legal in Brazil and many authorities are sympathetic toward outsiders who seek to give better lives for children born here in poverty. But arranging adoptions for profit is a crime, punishable by up to four years in jail. Such adoptions also are deemed invalid.
Over the past four years, at least 1,500 babies have been illegally adopted by Israeli, U.S., Canadian, West German, French and Italian couples, according to the federal police.
The foreigners, eager to acquire babies quickly, generally did not know they were doing anything wrong by paying fees to middlemen, federal police said. In fact, they added, Brazilian traffickers lied to adoptive parents by telling them local regulations required a payment of $5,000 to $10,000 for each child.
Payments for court fees and interpreters for a legal adoption by foreigners run $500 at most. However, foreigners trying to get a baby the lawful way can face months of bureaucratic delay; the baby gangs, working with corrupt local officials, often can arrange all the paperwork in two weeks.
Federal police agents in June broke up what they said was a major baby-trafficking gang in this southern port city about 30 miles east of German-settled Blumenau in Santa Catarina state. They found 20 newborn babies in a clandestine nursery who, they said, were to be delivered to childless couples from Israel who had come to Itajai.
Twenty-six Brazilians here were charged with arranging adoptions for profit and forming a gang with criminal intent. In Curitiba, another southeastern city, authorities issued an arrest warrant for Arlete Hilu on the same charges, but they said she had fled to Israel. Police claim she arranged 500 to 1,000 illegal adoptions for Israeli couples.
Alcioni Serafim de Santana, the federal police chief in Itajai, 680 miles from Rio de Janeiro, said in an interview the traffickers "specialized in finding and selling white, blue-eyed newborn infants to foreign couples desperate to adopt a baby."
Germans first started coming to Brazil in 1824, two years after Emperor Pedro I declared independence from Portugal. Today, Brazil is a multi-racial society and many descendants of German immigrants have assimilated into it.
Santana said the foreign couples who adopted children through the illegal rings were blameless.
"There is no doubt that children sent off to Israel and elsewhere have better chances of leading fruitful lives than if they were left to grow up in poverty here," he said. "The Israeli couples I talked to were all decent, warm human beings who would make excellent parents."
The police official added that foreign couples who come to Brazil to adopt children "are doing our country a great service, because they help solve one of our most dramatic problems -- the abandoned child."
According to official estimates, about 5 million children are abandoned throughout the country.
Santana said Brazil will not seek the return of adopted babies already in homes overseas, even though unlawful payments were made.
"But what concerns us and what we are trying to end is the illegality and, above all else, the immorality of treating babies as merchandise sold to the highest bidder," Santana said.
The police have arrested Carlos Cesario Pereira, an Itajai lawyer, on charges of arranging adoptions for profit and forming an illegal adoption ring.
"The charges against me are absurd," he said. "I represented hundreds of foreigners in adoptions that were completely legal."
He claimed he charged couples only honorariums but wouldn't say how much he asked. He also denied a police accusation that he tricked local women into giving up their babies for adoption.
"They always came to me asking me to find a new home for their babies, because they knew they could not care for them," Pereira said.
Chief Santana said the Itajai ring operated for 2 1/2 years and probably sold 500 children, almost all of them to Israeli couples."
He charged that the traffickers sent women into local slums posing as social workers, persuading pregnant$women to give up their babies for adoption. One scheme, he said, was to say the adoptive parents would be well-off Brazilian families in the area.
"The mothers were led to believe they could visit their children whenever they wanted and that if they later changed their minds they could get their babies back," Santana said.
One woman who claimed she was misled in that way is Roseli Jorge, 18.
"They stole my daughter," she said. "I want her back, but I'll never see her again.
"When I was about to give birth, a woman took me to the hospital and gave me 600 cruzados ($43) and a blank sheet of paper to sign which she said was a receipt for the money. The woman said she was a social worker and that the money was to buy clothing for the baby."
The woman added that after she gave birth to a dark-haired, blue- eyed girl she named Daniela, "I was going to keep her and go live with my mother." But she said the "social worker" then told her the paper she had signed was an adoption release.
The police say Daniela was adopted in 1985 by an Israeli couple.
"While some mothers complain they have been fooled or say they want their babies back," Chief Santana said, "there are many others who are perfectly happy to have given their babies away."