BABY TRADE FLOURISHES BETWEEN BRAZIL AND EUROPE
Scripps Howard News Service
Whenever the police in the Brazilian city of Curitiba arrest more suspected baby trade traffickers, Jose Goncalves makes a fresh trip to the jail.
He looks the traffickers straight in the eye and asks them if they sold his son.
They always deny it, but he cannot help hoping that one day one will remember 4-year-Everton, who disappeared two days before Christmas in 1988 as he waited alone at the end of his family's quiet street for his father to return home for lunch.
The last person to see Everton alive was a bricklayer working nearby who remembers seeing the child talking to a strange man.
"He was an intelligent little boy who knew his own name, knew his parents' names and knew where his father worked. I can only think he was a victim of the traffickers," says Goncalves, a court justice official with two other small children.
Everton may not have been a victim of Brazil's baby trade, but police recognize that he disappeared in a city which has become famous for its hidden traffic in babies and small children.
In January, police in Curitiba re-arrested Arlete Hilu, considered the leader of a network of traffickers whose influence starts in southern Brazil, spreads up through Rio de Janeiro and over to Europe and beyond.
Hilu, an intelligent and ruthless women in her 40s, was arrested while serving a two-year sentence in conditional freedom. She is accused of returning, unrepentant, to baby trafficking.
Police also arrested a couple looking after two one-week-old babies in their house and two doctors working in a maternity clinic. Police believe that in the last eight months some 6O babies have been sold illegally by the gang.
A Brazilian government investigation into the baby trade has revealed that up to 1O,OOO children are thought to have left Brazil in illegal adoptions in the last five years. Many of them go to Europe, particularly Germany, France and Italy.
Israel was also a common destination until the return of 3-year-old Bruna Vasconcelos to Curitiba. Bruna, kidnapped and illegally sold to an Israeli couple when she was 4-months-old, returned in 1988 amid intense publicity and a hard fought court case.
She is the only kidnapped Brazilian baby ever to be brought back.
Despite the publicity surrounding Bruna's case, police and lawyers believe the baby trade is still rife, if not increasing.
"The more a family's economic circumstances worsen, the more likely they are to take desperate measures," says lawyer Elias Assad.
Most babies illegally sold in Brazil are not stolen. More often they are given away or sold for small amounts of money by impoverished mothers. The traffickers begin to work on the mothers even before the child is born, offering to pay hospital bills, provide clothes for the newborn and perhaps up to $6O to help the mother when she returns home.
"After the mother gives up the child there is a time when she repents and tries to contact the person who took her child. But it's too late," says Assad.
Most leads on the traffickers come from desperate mothers who go to the police. "The traffickers are usually women, intelligent and sticklers for detail. They are also extremely tight-lipped under interrogation," says detective Ricardo Noronha.
Curitiba has no special resources to investigate the baby trade and babies easily leave the state for safe houses in Rio de Janeiro. There the traffickers await a suitable opportunity to break security at the airport.
"We believe there is someone working with the traffickers at the airport
because their names never appear on flight lists," says detective Noronha.
A baby from southern Brazil can fetch from $16,000 to $3O,OOO. It is a region populated by many descendents of German, Dutch, Polish and Italian colonists, which means a high proportion of white, blond and blue-eyed children.
The traffickers prefer to adopt babies but children up to 9 years are thought to have been illegally adopted.
One of the best ways to fight the baby trade in Brazil would be to cut back on the bureaucracy involved in legal adoptions. "There are plenty of children waiting to be adopted, but some couples aren't patient enough to enter into the long drawn out process," says Assad.
Meanwhile, Goncalves' patience is infinite and will continue until there is some news of his son, Everton.