Together at last
© UNICEF Mozambique/2012/Mark Lehn
Clearer direction and coordination is needed among centres, social welfare services and courts, so cases where family reunification is unlikely can be identified.
No one knows for sure what the first eight
years of life looked like for Julinha. Four
years ago, Lurdes was in the bus on her way
back home from a long day at work. As she
got off the bus and started walking home,
she felt someone tugging at her skirt. She
looked around and saw a young girl looking
up at her.
- I am hungry, she whispered shyly.
So Lurdes took her home and gave her a
- Then I took her to the neighborhood chief,
who said that it was a police matter and that
we had to go to the police station.
After several unfruitful attempts to locate
her family by social welfare services, Julinha
was allowed to stay with Lurdes and her
family of three children.
- From the first day that Mother found
Julinha, we welcomed her, and she has
always behaved well, says the eldest. For us,
she is like our own sister. We consider her a
member of the family.
The family lives in the outskirts of the
Mozambican capital Maputo. Despite
difficult circumstances, their's is a stable
and loving family. Lurdes husband died
several years ago and she recently ended a
relationship with her partner of two years.
Despite these changes at home, the three
children are doing very well in school, says
Lurdes. The oldest child wants to be an
accountant. For Julinha to attend school,
Lurdes had to go to the Civil Registry Office
to obtain a birth certificate. Now 12 years
old, Julinha has completed fourth grade, and
says she wants to be a doctor.
- I have to struggle to make that dream come
true, she says.
For Lurdes, struggling is, in many ways, a
way of life. Since she became a widow in
2006, Lurdes has provided for her family
thanks to a job as a domestic worker. She
also sells charcoal in the neighborhood,
and her daughters run a stand selling fruit,
sweets and biscuits. Lurdes' only concern
regarding Julinha is that someone will one
day accuse her of "stealing" somebody else's
child. With the help of the social welfare
office, courts, and other authorities, she
therefore submitted a court application to
formalize the arrangement to foster Julinha.
For her, the court decision is important to
make sure no one takes the girl away from
her. Her daughters agree that this must
- She is living with us, and belongs here,
Although many families in Mozambique
foster abandoned or lost children informally,
this is the first case in Maputo where such an
arrangement has been formalized, following
procedures under the Children's Act and
- Traditionally, it is common practice to
host children in our country, but we are less
concerned about making it official, explains
Francisca Lucas, Deputy National Director
for Social Action of the Ministry of Women
and Social Action.
A foster family is a legal arrangement
established to tackle the high number of
orphans and vulnerable children hosted
informally by families, as well as those who
remain in residential centres for a long
time. Clearer direction and coordination
is needed among centres, social welfare
services and courts, so cases where family
reunification is unlikely can be identified.
This would help avoid long-term or
permanent institutionalization of children,
and open the door to alternative protection
For Julinha and her family, all that matters
now is that they have each other, and that no
one could ever deny what they themselves
have always known: that they belong