In what ways does the practice of informal adoptions in Brazil perpetuate labor exploitation and resonate with contemporary forms of slavery?

There are two lasting legacies of Brazil’s role in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: Brazil has the largest population of African-descendants outside of Africa, and it has the greatest number of domestic workers in the world. In Brazil, there are more than 7 million domestic workers, mainly Afro-Brazilian women. As recently as March 2013, the Brazilian Congress approved one of the most sweeping domestic labor reforms in the Western Hemisphere, which some call Brazil’s “second abolition of slavery.” These reforms are impressive, yet there are potentially thousands of Afro-Brazilian women who fall outside the scope of these reforms because they are exploited in a contemporary form of slavery in their own families. This project proposes a sociological investigation into the structural and individual-level factors that contribute to the exploitation and unpaid labor of informally adopted black women in their adoptive families.

This new project entitled, Second Class Daughters: Informal Adoptions as Neo-Slavery in Brazil, has benefitted from generous funding from the Fulbright organization, American Sociological Association Funds for the Advancement of the Discipline, Ruth Landes Memorial Fund, and the USF WLP organization. In the summer of 2015 and May-August 2016, I will extend this research from Salvador, Bahia to include interviews with informally adopted daughters (filhas de criação) in Bahia, Rio Grande do Sul, and the Amazon. The expansion of this project will allow me to observe and document how race and ethnic shape how black, indigenous, and European-descended women experience informal adoption.


  • Hordge-Freeman, Elizabeth and Jaira Harrington. “Ties that Bind: Localizing the Occupational Motivations that Drive Non-Affiliated Domestic Workers in Salvador, Brazil” In Perspectives on Domestic and Caregiving Work: A Global Approach, ed. Marcel van der Lindon, Brill publishers, United Kingdom. (Forthcoming May 2015)
  • Global Slavery Index
  • Free The Slaves

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