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
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
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
AdoçãoState 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.
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
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",
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
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: email@example.com
Addresses of Institutions dealing with adoption as compiled by Projeto Criança (Child
Associação Brasileira Terra dos Homens
Rua General Polidoro, 183 sala 502 – 22290-000 – Rio de Janeiro, RJ; Tel/Fax: (021)
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.
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
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:
Grupo de Apoio à Adoção de Itapetininga – Gaadi
Rua Campos Sales, 554 A, sobreloja – 18200-000 – Itapetininga, SP; Tel: (015) 271-9049;
Grupo de Estudos e Apoio à Adoção de Joinville
Caixa Postal 811 – Fórum Governador Ivo Silveira – Setor Serviço Social – 89201-972 –
Grupo de Apoio à Adoção de Londrina
Rua la Paz 49 – Parque Guanabara – 86050-080 – Londrina, PR; Tel: (043) 329-9955
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)
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)
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
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;
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,
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:
Projeto Aconchego – Brasília
Caixa Postal 4713 – 72401-970 – Gama, DF; Tel: (061) 394-4102/394-5443 and
Av. Dr. D. T. Gallo, 27 – 1880-000 – Pirajuí/SP
Departamento de Psicologia da UFPR – Praça Santos Andrade, 5- Tel: (041) 310-2625 http://www.brasil.terravista.pt/Ipanema/2172
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
Av. São Francisco, 260 – 75110-810 – Anápolis-GO; Tel: (062) 321-2198 and
Projeto Recriar: Família e Adoção
Rua Napoleão Lopes, 40 – ap. 11 – 80530-090 – Curitiba, PR; Tel: (041) 252-5162
All foreign documents must be translated into Portuguese as well as certified
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
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.
3009 Whitehaven St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel: (202) 745-2828