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Monday 17 October 2011

Who Do You Think You Are? – The Spanish ‘Lost’ Babies

Tomorrow, October 18, the BBC is showing a documentary on a subject I have already mentioned on this blog in May – the ghastly practice during the Franco regime, and possibly up to the nineties, of removing new-born children from ‘unsuitable’ mothers and selling them on to ‘approved’ parents. The mothers were told their child had died.

The present estimate for the number of times this was done is about 300,000. That’s 300,000 people of course, now with different names, sometimes in different countries. Doubtless there was a ‘moral’ justification – at least some of the mothers would have been ‘unwed’ - but it was also a business, carried out by members of the Spanish Church, doctors and adoption agencies - and money was involved.

There are some truly weird details. Some mothers were told the child had already been buried. Others got to accompany tiny coffins to the cemetery. Some of the coffins have now been found to contain small animal bones. What were the perpetrators thinking? Presumably some sort of undertaker really did put a rabbit in a coffin and seal it up.

Right now there are a lot of distressed people trying to match themselves up with the help of DNA analysis.

But what struck me as odd when I read recent reports was how long the business had continued. After all Franco died in 1975. Spanish democracy started a couple of years later and attitudes changed very fast.

Then I remembered something personal. In the seventies we tried to adopt a child in Spain. We already had a son. I had had a miscarriage. It occurred to us to adopt a girl. Advice around us was not favourable. ‘What if the girl had ‘bad blood?’ We paid no attention.

I was then called to fill in as a translator at a drug trial. In conversation with the President of the Court I learnt I could adopt tomorrow. There were 167 children waiting for adoption. I could have two if I liked. What about nationality? It simply wasn’t a problem. Why didn’t we go to the orphanage and pick one.

We then ran into a Franco period law. We were not old enough. We had to be 35. And that was that.

When I did hit 35 I remembered this. I then found out that, post Franco, I was too old to adopt. More to my point there were no children to adopt.

And that presumably is why the business continued. It simply adapted to new conditions and provided a service to those desperate to have a child at the expense of ‘unsuitable’ mothers.

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