Scribbler in Seville

Stolen babies: part 2

As a follow-up to my previous post, on a story which I had been following for some time in the Spanish media, I though it was worth mentioning some of today's national press coverage of the topic.

It's a delicate, sensitive issue, partly because it involves secrets and deception on such a massive scale, and also because they're often known as "Franco's babies" (Los niños robados del Franquismo), the dictator's name itself still being deeply emotive and bound to cause divisions and raise hackles immediately. There are clear parallels with what happened in 1970s and 80s Argentina, where babies of communist parents were taken away to be brought up by more politically acceptable candidates.

In fact, the practice of "stealing" newborn babies from Spanish women - telling them they had died, in order to sell them on to childless couples - started in the 1940s and continued well into the 1980s, and some reports say even into the 1990s. So you have to assume that the motivation was as much financial as political. The gynaecologists at the relevant clinics – all across Spain – and the nuns, priests and monks who helped them by finding the adoptive parents, profited from the sales, since the parents weren't willingly or knowingly selling their own newborns.

One of the revelations in today's paper – perhaps not news to many people in Spain who were aware of, even if not actively participant in, the estimated 300,000 illegal adoptions – was that the potential mothers, who were to receive someone else's own baby, were told to fake a pregnancy. They had to pretend to have nausea, vomiting, and to stuff pillows up their jumper, thereby avoiding suspicion and neighbours wondering why a bump-less woman suddenly had a newborn baby.

One "stolen baby", who was "adopted" in the 1960s, tells how in those times it wasn't well considered not to have children. So the dictator's stranglehold on society and its norms (which already curtailed women's financial and legal freedom) extended to impressing an ideal of the nuclear family? Think of another regime where offspring are carefully controlled, but limited rather than encouraged – China, with its one-child policy. His influence was deep and ubiquitous.

The same 43-year-old from Almeria (anonymously, as her "mother" is still alive) tells how the woman who fulfilled the role of her mother wasn't affectionate, never gave her hugs, and for this reason she always suspected. She ponders whether her mother was like that generally, or… you can easily guess the rest. She's implying that maybe her mother only wanted a baby not to be mal visto in her pueblo. And therefore never adopted the baby girl for the right reasons – because she wanted a child to love – but to be socially acceptable.

The story ends on a sad note – that she is resigned never to finding her birth mother. There are several websites and blogs used to reconnect stolen babies with their birth mothers, or to offer guidance and support -, and Let's hope that some of the 300,000 manage to find their birth families – if not parents, then at least siblings.

A funeral director from Granada says was suspicious about the babies he was asked to bury. The "bodies" he collected from the hospital weighed nothing; they were wrapped in blood-soaked rags which were sealed with surgical tape, so he couldn't see a face or head; and there were no parents to hand them over and bid them farewell. He says he wishes now he had looked more closely; at the time he was in a rush. "I didn't open them to see if there was a body. I should have opened them."

The article also mentions Paco Lobaton, a journalist who used to present a show called Quien Sabe Donde (its website is mentioned above) in the 1990s, which looked for missing persons. When asked if the "adoptions" which took place at an orphanage in Pamplona, which he investigated, involved money changing hands, his reply is telling:

"You can't exactly say it was a commercial transaction, a business, but everyone was aware that the Church always receives donations." A polite and roundabout way of saying that the Catholic church undoubtedly profited from these networks. Yet another level of scandal in this story which will run and run.


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