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Adoption Saga Of Rio's Streets


Adoption Saga Of Rio's Streets

Published: December 29, 1994

As she stood in front of the Candelaria Church on a recent steel-gray afternoon, at the site of the 1993 murder of eight street children, tears welled in Jacquelyn Bracy's eyes. In August 1993, she learned of the plight of Rio's street children while watching a segment on ABC's "World News Tonight," at her home near Sacramento, Calif.

Mrs. Bracy had been so moved by the tears of a young Brazilian boy named Fernando Cesar that she had not only tried to contact and help him, but had eventually sought to adopt him.

This week, on Christmas morning, Mrs. Bracy and her husband, Robert, a transportation manager for the Department of Defense in Lathrop, Calif., left Sao Paulo airport to return to the United States with two newly adopted teen-age sons. Both boys had once been street youths, companions of the boys who had been shot in their sleep in 1993. (Members of the military police, who officials believe were hired by repeatedly robbed merchants, are among those awaiting trial for the murders.)

The Bracys' 16-month odyssey -- they are believed to be the first American couple to adopt a street child from Rio de Janeiro -- illustrates the extreme problems that foreigners face in trying to adopt children in Brazil. Americans adopt fewer than 200 children from that country each year, yet thousands of Brazilian children live on the streets.

Carlos Alberto Moreira, the coordinator for Support Adoption, a one-year-old network in Rio for people interested in adopting, said: "We don't have a culture of adoption here in Brazil. In the orphanages and shelters, we see so many children that could be adopted, could have homes, but due to a lack of political will the children are simply left there."

After contacting the Sao Martinho Beneficent Association, which was featured in the television report, Mrs. Bracy began exchanging letters and photographs with Hermani Leite Jose, or Fernando as he was known on the street, who was then 13. A month later, Mr. and Mrs. Bracy began adoption proceedings.

Since the Bracys and the boys do not have a language in common, sign language has been the major means of communication over the last few months. Mrs. Bracy, who has already raised five children, one of whom is also adopted, said she is aware that the boys could bring a lot of turmoil to her home. But she doesn't anticipate any serious problems. "I find teen-age boys are all alike," she said.

The first step in the adoption process was to demonstrate the Bracys' suitability as parents for both an American adoption agency and for the Brazilians. Once they started gathering personal and professional references and going through a home study and psychological evaluation with the help of Family Connections, an adoption agency in Modesto, Calif., Mr. and Mrs. Bracy decided that adopting two boys, rather than one, would make adapting easier for the children.

The Sao Martinho Beneficent Association has been providing food, shelter, medical assistance and job skills to street children in Rio's downtown Lapa neighborhood since 1984. Through Sao Martinho, Mrs. Bracy thought she had found the Fernando she had seen on television. But after a few months' correspondence, the association realized that they had confused Fernandos. As it turned out, the television Fernando had a family, so the Bracy's adopted the Fernando they had come to know from the letter exchange. They have decided to rename him Robert Hermani Bracy, and call him Robby.

Robby is the son of alcoholics who died by the time he was 2 years old. His older sister was taken in by local families, but Robby was abandoned to city institutions and eventually a life on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Since March 1993, Robby had taken advantage of programs at Sao Martinho, working for two months as an office boy and taking a course in furniture caning.

Humbelina F. Gurgel, a psychologist and social worker at Sao Martinho, said that Robby is "very shy, very quiet, closed, doesn't talk with anyone, often shows signs of depression." But when she asked what he thought of being adopted, Robby's first response was, "I want a father."

Mrs. Gurgel said, "This idea of adoption has changed him."

Mrs. Bracy sent Robby a T-shirt with a map of California on it indicating where French Camp, the Bracy's hometown, lies. Robby was so attached to his prized shirt that he was hard put to let it be washed.

Alex Luiz Diogo, 14, is the youth the Bracys have adopted along with Robby. (His new name, which adds Mr. Bracy's middle name, is Alex Andrew Bracy.) When Alex was about 7, his house in Rio burned down. Then, his alcoholic father disappeared. In 1993, his mother was found dead. Alex, his two brothers and sister had only the streets for a sense of home. When he wasn't harassing passers-by, Alex used to sniff glue with his new-found friends, but he admitted: "I was afraid of those urchins."

Mrs. Gurgel selected Alex as a candidate for adoption, in spite of the fact that he is a "very nervous" child, because he has "a great will to succeed."

In fact, over the last year and a half, Mr. and Mrs. Bracy, Robby and Alex have all needed great determination to triumph over the Brazilian adoption process.

"It's like Jackie has been pregnant for 16 months instead of 9," Mr. Bracy said. "You'd think they'd try to make this a little easier. There are very many hurdles they put in your way."

Audrey Foster, the founder and director of the Family Connections adoption agency in California, handles about four Brazilian adoptions each year. "Anybody who adopts from Brazil has to be determined and know that they will have to put up with all sorts of disappointments and red tape," Mrs. Foster said.

Brazil's 1990 Statute of the Child and Adolescent makes adoption irrevocable and requires foreigners to live under supervision in Brazil with a child under 2 years of age for at least 15 days and with a child over 2 years for at least 30 days. Combining the time requirement with the costs involved, for the adoption agency, lawyer, notary public, travel and rent fees, means that many foreigners cannot afford the time and money that Brazilian law requires for adoption.

Judge Liborni Siquiera of Juvenile Court in Rio processes about 1,300 adoptions and foster home placements a year, but of those only about 20 are foreign adoptions. With the statute saying that adoption is irrevocable, the judge warns that the courts must be very careful about whom they allow to adopt.

Many myths and preconceptions about adoption exist in Brazil. Adoption by foreigners is one of the concerns of a recent Parliamentary investigation into infant and juvenile exploitation and prostitution. There have been many allegations in the press that Brazil has been a provider of human organs to a clandestine market.

In August, Judge Bartolomeu Moraes, from the northern city of Recife, suspended the adoption process there for all foreign couples. He is awaiting the results of an investigation into the reports that Brazilian children adopted by foreigners have been victims of international organ traffickers.

Judge Siquiera said: "The volume of children that we have to be adopted is very great, and a great number of these children a Brazilian will not accept, but a foreigner will accept. A Brazilian wants a blond, blue-eyed newborn. A Brazilian won't accept a child that isn't the exact same shade he is."

In a November editorial in the Veja news magazine, Monica de Melo Barbosa, an agronomic engineer from Cabo Frio, stated: "I think we have an obligation, as human beings, to inform, divulge, encourage and facilitate adoption by legal means for Brazilians and foreigners. Along with being an act of love, it's the best way to resolve the grave social problem of the abandoned child."

Robby took a photograph of his sister, Rosalane, with him when he took his first plane trip. But he was eager to go. "When I get there, I want to study," he said. Alex, who had been counting the days until his departure, said, "I think there will be more hope there."

Mrs. Bracy said: "These children need a family more than anything else. There's never going to be any doubt that they are loved and wanted. It's a shame we can't adopt more."

1994 Dec 29