Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - A parade of adoptable children held in a Brazilian shopping center drew condemnation Thursday, with some comparing the event to the sale of animals or slaves.
"Adoption on the Catwalk" in the central-west state of Mato Grosso was designed to "give visibility to children and adolescents who are eligible for adoption," according to an official statement promoting Tuesday's show.
The parade -- organized by the local chapters of the Brazil Bar Association's Childhood and Youth Commission (CYC) and the Adoption Research and Support Association (AMPARA) -- was held in the Pantanal shopping mall in the capital Cuiaba.
"As we always say, what the eyes see, the heart feels," Tatiane de Barros Ramalho, president of the CYC and a lawyer, was quoted as saying.
"It's a night for potential adopters to get to know the kids and teens. The population can have more information about adoption and the children themselves will have a special day in which they will get done up for the parade."
An undated photo published on G1 news site purportedly showed a girl wearing a white t-shirt and a short pink skirt walking down a catwalk in front of onlookers, who were recording images with their smartphones.
But the bar association said the photo was taken during a previous "Adoption on the Catwalk" event in 2016.
News of the parade sparked outrage on social media, prompting organizers to defend the event, saying none of the children had been forced to participate.
"It was never the goal... to introduce children and adolescents to families in order to achieve adoption," the Brazil Bar Association of Mato Grosso (OAB-MT) said on its Facebook page.
It admitted, however, that two teenagers were adopted after the 2016 edition.
"The OAB-MT and AMPARA reject any kind of distortion of the event by associating it with dark periods of our history," it added, referring to Brazil's past as a slave trader.
The former Portuguese colony only abolished slavery in 1888, two decades after the United States.
Echoes of that period continue to reverberate today in a country where racism is deeply embedded.
A spokeswoman for the bar association told AFP the adoptable children who took part in Tuesday's parade were accompanied by part-time foster parents.
Children who had already been adopted also participated with their families, she said.
- 'Cattle market' -
The bar association's Facebook statement drew hundreds of comments, mostly critical of the parade.
"Selling animals or slaves?" Juarez Ternus wrote.
Another user said: "Shameful... it's like a children's exhibition fair in the form of a cattle market."
"Like the slaves of 'old' -- did they show their teeth?" wrote Silvia Morgan.
The National Secretary for the Rights of Children and Adolescents expressed its "regret" over the parade, which also sparked an online petition protesting the event. So far it has garnered more than 1,100 signatures.
Others defended the event.
"These parades have been responsible for transforming the lives of various boys and girls," wrote Julio Resende on Facebook, signing his statement "by an adoptive family very grateful for the work of AMPARA."
Judge Tulio Duailibi Souza, who had supported the parade, said "something has to be done for these children to be remembered by society."
"I don't see that this event resulted in more harm than good for these children who are looking for a home," Duailibi was quoted by G1 as saying.
More than 9,500 children and adolescents are waiting to be adopted in Brazil, a state news agency reported Tuesday, citing figures from the National Adoption Registry.