Pregnant with her fourth child, Russian lawyer Alena Tcherepanova, 41, swapped the Siberian winter for summer in São Paulo and immediately noticed the difference in her body. “As soon as I arrived the swelling went down, my skin, my hair, my nails, everything got better. I no longer had to wear as many clothes as in the cold of Russia, which is very unpleasant for a pregnant woman,” she says.
The baby, baptized with the Greek name of Anfisa, was born on February 26, 2021 by the SUS (Unified Health System), in a delivery center in the Jardim Mirante district, on the outskirts of the city. Without mastering English or speaking Portuguese, Alena communicated with the team via a translation app on her cell phone.
Despite the language barrier, she says the experience at Casa Angela exceeded her expectations. “I was surrounded by affection, which is what a woman needs at the time. It was very different from what happens in Russia, where obstetric violence is sadly very common,” she says. “This warm atmosphere helped me relax. This is the kind of environment babies should be born into.”
In the first contacts with the delivery center, the team doubted that they would come this far to have the baby in Brazil. “I wrote twice asking for information and they replied, but they didn’t seem to believe I was going there to give birth.” And it was just to give birth: a month and a half later, the lawyer returned to Russia, with the baby already with a Brazilian birth certificate and passport.
Alena is not an isolated case: the demand for so-called childbirth tourism in Brazil has grown so much between Russia, Ukraine and other countries of the former Soviet Union that specific agencies have been created to serve them. The price of the service varies based on the service chosen, but the average is US $ 5,000 (R $ 23,000). There are also forums on social networks to exchange advice between those who want to come and those who have already had the experience.
The goal is to obtain Brazilian citizenship for their children. “The Brazilian passport opens many more doors than the Russian one”, explains sociologist Svetlana Ruseishvili, professor at UFSCar (University of São Carlos), who has published a scientific article on the subject. “Childbirth tourism has become a strategy to raise migratory capital, that is, to increase the opportunities for international travel”.
The Brazilian passport allows visa-free access to more than 150 countries, which places it 20th in the Henley Passport Index, one of the best-known rankings on the subject, 29 positions ahead of Russia.
citizenship by birth
Few countries grant the right to citizenship only at birth, the so-called “jus soli”. The system is common in Latin America and Mexico, Argentina and Brazil are the three most sought after by Russian families for this purpose, according to Ruseishvili. The ease of regularization for parents of children born in Brazil is another attraction. In the United States, for example, there is “jus soli”, but there are many obstacles to the naturalization of family members. The costs of travel and medical services are also much higher, including the lack of a universal public health system, as is the case with SUS.
Under Brazilian law, the child’s parents immediately receive a residence permit in the country and, one year later, can apply for naturalization, provided they reside in Brazil and take a Portuguese test.
Sao Paulo, Rio, Paraty and Curitiba are some cities sought after by these families, but the most popular is Florianópolis, as it is considered safe and has a good public delivery system.
At the Federal University of Santa Catarina hospital, which began receiving Russian patients in 2014, 19 births of Russian women have been performed to date. “Everyone presented a temporary address and justification for obtaining Brazilian citizenship,” the institution said.
The increase in the number of Russian women giving birth in the capital Santa Catarina has generated an alert in the public prosecutor, who suspected that the births could be linked to a network of child trafficking. In 2019, the state court ordered the Federal Police to investigate the cases, and one of the children was even sent to a shelter for a few days.
In a statement, the PF reported that it had carried out a preliminary investigation and that it did not find migratory irregularities or signs of a crime in human trafficking. There has been no investigation.
The war has led to an increase in demand
Since the start of the war in Ukraine and, with it, the isolation imposed on Russia by Western countries, the demand for childbirth tourism in Brazil has grown, says Olga Aliokhina Alves, a partner-owner of Brazilmama, an agency that serves the Russian-speaking families since 2017.
“In the pandemic it has decreased, also because the borders have been closed. With the war, everyone is fleeing Russia and Ukraine, they want a better life, a peaceful pregnancy, the right to legally live in another country,” she says. it cares for an average of two to five families per month.
The conflict has also led some families to decide to stay in Brazil after the birth of the child, instead of returning to Russia, as originally planned.
Packages may only include assistance in obtaining documents or even services such as accompanying medical examinations and childbirth, property rental and travel advice. The VIP option also entitles you to a photo shoot, a trip to Rio de Janeiro, an intensive Portuguese course and a private driver, as well as the rental of cots, strollers and changing tables.
Businesswomen, doctors, lawyers and other middle- and upper-class women are the predominant profile among those who travel abroad to have children, says Ruseishvili, of UFSCar. Some of them also try to satisfy the desire for a natural and humanized birth. “In Russia it is almost impossible to have this experience”.
They usually arrive one to three months before their due date, alone or with husbands and other children. “Some fall in love with the country and stay forever, while others stay only a few weeks, until they get a residence permit,” says Alena.
Despite having returned to her country after giving birth, the lawyer now wants to emigrate permanently to Brazil with her husband and four children. “We’ve been looking for a place to move for a long time, with a milder climate,” she says. “Even though I only visited São Paulo, Praia Grande and Salvador, I thought we could feel comfortable in one of these places.”