Saturday, 22 October 2011

Spain's Stolen Babies

I just watched the episode of BBC2's This World: Spain's Stolen Babies, and it was pretty amazing, especially viewed through the lens of my interest in Argentina.

In short, it seems that many babies were taken from new mothers during the Franco regime and sold. The women were told their babies were stillborn or had died shortly after birth. Although they were not disappeared people as in Argentina, there are a number of startling parallels, such as:

- The involvement of the Catholic church. Several witnesses said that they had bought babies from priests or were told of their child's "death" by nuns working in the hospitals.
- An ideological aspect in which children were taken from "unsuitable" (left-wing, unmarried) parents and placed with more "appropriate" (pro-regime) parents.
- A fear of/respect for authority which made it difficult to question what was said by doctors and other professionals, coupled with a certain amount of turning-a-blind-eye from certain sectors. In Spain, the situation has been complicated by the fact that mothers did not have to enter their names on the birth certificate - this was supposed to "protect" unmarried mothers - and that adoptive parents could be entered as biological parents. That makes DNA testing the only hope for a clear answer, and as I'll note below, that's not so easy either.

There was some mention that the number of children taken from their biological parents could run into the hundreds of thousands. That is a truly huge figure and there was little indication of how it was arrived at, so I'll reserve my judgement until I see some proof on that, but really, it doesn't matter. The stolen children of Argentina are a huge issue and there are "only" around 400-500 of them. Even if there was only a handful, it would still be a big scandal.

Unfortunately, as yet the Spanish government has resisted opening a full investigation into the stolen children. As the BBC points out, data protection laws prohibit DNA banks from sharing or cross-referencing data and the Spanish government has yet to fulfil its promise to set up a national DNA database. It sounds like the Spaniards affected need to take a leaf out of Argentina's book and protest very, very loudly to get this situation changed.

Spain's stolen babies and the families who lived a lie

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