Little reliable data collected on missing children
There are no official consolidated numbers about how many children disappear each year in Brazil, the CFM (Conselho Federal de Medicina – Federal Medical Council) has indicated that around 50,000 minors disappear every year in Brazil.
The Ministry of Justice, however, shows only 369 cases listed in 20 of the 27 Brazilian States! Clearly, the National Database of Missing Children and Adolescents created in 2010 does not work correctly and doesn’t reflect the real numbers. A lack of funding, low human resources, bureaucratic failure, and lack of political will are presented as the main reasons why the national database is still not functioning.
All we know from official statistics is that 82,094 people disappeared in Brazil in 2018. The question is, how many of these are children? An NGO from São Paulo called Mães da Sé (Mothers of Sé) has complained about this dramatic situation for years now. The numbers they gathered show that from every ten people that disappear is São Paulo, the largest State in Brazil, 4 are children or teenagers.
Brazilian authorities must establish, use and monitor a reliable data system to track the number of missing children. Policy change will not happen unless the real extent of the problem is understood and data is required for that.
Local databases on missing children must be integrated into the national database. Local procedures on missing children need to be aligned across cities and states.
Brazil needs to speed up the resolution of Hague Convention cases from the current 627 days.
Divorce has only been legal in Brazil since 1977 and in recent years the country has experienced a growing number of divorces. While typically mothers have custody of the children, there has been a spike in joint custody in the last five years with about a quarter of divorces resulting in joint custody. This has been possible after a new law was passed in 2014. The new legislation determines that when the parents disagree on who should have the legal obligation of caring for the child, joint custody is obligatory. Joint custody has been a significant move to deter parental alienation.
The surge in numbers of children’s abduction is a consequence of countries’ growing connections and the rapid growth of travel and migrations. We cannot forget that many internal cases happen in Brazil, but again the lack of a centralized database makes it hard to identify how prevalent this problem is.
Brazil is a very diverse country, and immigration has been a reality in the nation’s history. For example, Brazil has the second-largest Japanese community outside of Japan. It is common for Japanese Brazilian to move back to Japan; there are also large Lebanese, Italian, Portuguese and German populations in Brazil. The country has an intense relationship with these nations. Again, there aren’t trustworthy databases on how many parental abduction cases have happened in the last years. In January 2018, there were 55 petitions from the United States of America regarding cases of American citizens held by a parent illegally in Brazil.
Brazilian media has covered prominent cases in the past years relating to children abducted in Brazil, such as the Sean Goldman case, an American child abducted by his Brazilian mother after going on vacation to Rio de Janeiro. The Goldman case lingered for years, and finally, the Brazilian Supreme Court, after lengthy litigation, determined that the minor should return to his father. This came with a heavy toll on the father and Sean himself. In the end, the legal dispute, family relations were thorn, and Sean Goldman had trouble keeping in touch with his Brazilian family, as he explained in a 2018 interview.
Another noticeable case was of a Brazilian child abducted by her father, a Lebanese national married to Brazilian Claudia Boutros, and taken without the mother’s authorization to Lebanon. In this specific case, the Lebanese Judicial system took seven years to determine that the child should be transferred to her mother in Brazil. Unfortunately, during this long time, the child could not speak Portuguese anymore and decided to remain in Lebanon and visit her mother on vacation.
Brazil took 20 years to adhere to the Hague Convention and signed the treaty in April of 2020. Brazil takes a very long time to resolve these cases, however. Data shows that in 2015 Latin American countries took around 163 days to process and have a definite ruling on such abduction cases. Brazil, on the other hand, took about 627 days for a definitive court ruling. Just as a comparison, Denmark takes 44 days to have a final decision on such matters.
This could explain why the North American State Department sees Brazil as a non-compliant nation regarding the Hague Convention. Even though Brazil has signed the Convention, the unusually long time frame to reach a Legal decision is seen as a failure to implement the provisions under the Hague Convention effectively, leaving many child abduction cases initiated abroad unsolved. The fact that the final judicial decision can take so long exposes the child to potential damage. The family bonds, cultural and language skills developed at this stage of life could be lost forever.
Brazilian families have used the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in cases where Brazilian nationals are taken unlawfully to other countries. The Brazilian Central Authority for the Hague Abduction Convention is the National Secretary for Human Rights. SEDH’s role is to perform the duties given to central authorities under the Hague Abduction Convention, including processing Hague Abduction Convention applications for the return of abducted children.
Lately, the question about parental alienation and its possible relations to abductions have been receiving attention in courts. Parental alienation is a situation in which one parent alienates the other from his child’s life, causing damage to the child and the alienated parent. Brazilian Courts have ruled this kind of behavior is child abuse and, in many cases, have taken action to put an end to this situation. The alienating party might lose the right to legal custody and might have joint custody revoked or denied.
Brazil is one of the few countries to have parental alienation laws in place. The 2010 law considers parental alienation to be “changing a child’s domicile to a distant location, without a justified cause, with the intent of making it difficult for the child or adolescent to have contact with the other parent, his family or grandparent.”
This means that the Brazilian legal system views the “taking parent” as responsible for illegal and hazardous action against the child and the other parent. By this law, a judge has the power of changing the custody from the parent responsible for the parental alienation to the left-behind parent.
It is possible that parental alienation and abduction in happening from birth for many Brazilians, especially those born to unmarried parents. There are about 6 million Brazilians who do not have their parent’s names on their birth certificate. What we don’t know though is why but it is very likely that some of these children are victims of parental alienation and/or abduction.
The Brazilian Federal Police (Polícia Federal) is responsible for issuing Passports to Brazilian Citizens. In the case of minors, there are different requirements. If the Passport holder is under 18 years, both parents need to be present when the passport is issued. If one of them is not present, the missing parent should provide written authorization for the passport or a court ruling can authorize it. The child has to be present at the time the passport is delivered. If one of the parents is missing, there needs to be a Court ruling that authorizes the Passport issuing.
In Brazil, the governmental agency responsible for implementing the Hague Convention’s directives is ACAF – Autoridade Central Administrativa Federal (Federal Central Administrative Authority). ACAF is an Agency located in the Ministry of Justice. ACAF is responsible for receiving and issuing the requests from the member countries of the Hague Convention.
If a child goes missing, the first measure should be to immediately contact local and federal police authorities. Parents should not wait 24 hours waiting period. Police have a legal obligation to start searching for the missing minor. The family should submit the child’s name and information to the National Database of Missing Children and Adolescents.
When a child goes missing, parents or other relatives should contact this National Database of Missing Children and Adolescents. The inclusion of the missing child’s data into this system does not substitute the police report. The families need to file the Police report as soon as possible as this is the official document that will start the investigation. The relatives should not wait 24 hours to report the disappearance, as some assume.
Thanks to Leonardo Futuro for the contribution in producing this country page.
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