Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Adoption Is a Faint Hope for Brazil's Orphans

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Adoption Is a Faint Hope for Brazil's Orphans

Article excerpt

ADRIANA COUTO'S life might take a turn for the better on this cool foggy Monday morning, the day Juvenile Court Judge Antonio Augusto Guimaraes de Souza has come to visit her at the Mother of God Orphanage.

"Would you go to live with a family without your sister?" asks the judge. "No," replies the 12-year-old brown-skinned girl, jiggling her legs on the sofa, fiddling with her colorful cloth bracelets, pink on one arm and green on the other. "Would you go if your sister could go, too?"

She nods yes, stealing a shy look and a smile at the judge.

As things stand now, Adriana's future leaves little room for doubt. "If she's lucky, she'll be a good maid," Judge Guimaraes says later. "... and she'll be making babies for us to take care of in three years."

After Adriana serves him coffee in the nuns' sitting room, the judge leaves in the court's Volkswagen bus to see her 13-year-old sister Claudia at the public school around the corner. The two girls have a mother, but have lived in orphanages for years, though no one knows the exact story.

The school's director buzzes in her unexpected visitors through a heavy metal door, from an office with barred windows. "The children from the orphanage give us the most problems," she tells the judge while an assistant scours the 2,000-student school for Claudia. Most are in special-needs classes, have a variety of physical ailments - and they "behave badly," she adds. Many local families, she says, "adopt" these orphanage girls, putting them to work as unpaid household domestics.

After seeing Claudia, Guimaraes is not optimistic. He may have to try to convince Adriana to leave her sister behind.

Riding back to the courthouse in downtown Sao Paulo, Guimaraes tells about children he has helped to save from poverty and sadness. He shows off letters they have written him, snapshots of them in new homes in Italy, Switzerland, and West Germany.

Foreign adoptions create controversy among Brazilians. They worry that the children will be mistreated abroad. There are recurring stories of children being "exported" for organ transplants and adoption experts say there is, in fact, a big illegal, for-profit adoption circuit. Brazilians also tend to believe the country should solve its social problems, rather than hand them off to richer nations.

But Guimaraes wants to clear up the damage already done, and fast. "There were two sisters in (the orphanage) who had gone eight months without a visit from their father. I took away the father's rights. This is abandonment and I have the right to declare it."

Once a judge does this, the child can be adopted. But unlike Guimaraes, most juvenile court judges hesitate to cut the ties between parent and child, however flimsy they may be. Guimaraes is also one of the few judges who believe in foreign adoptions. …

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