Global Politics

Stolen babies in Spain

By Gerry Hadden

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Estefania Anguita was born in Barcelona in1986, along with a twin sister. But minutes after their birth, she says, doctors told her mother that Estefania's sister had died.

"My parents weren't allowed to see my sister's body," Anguita said. "The hospital staff wouldn't let them. My grandmother wanted to bury my sister in the family plot but the hospital said that was impossible too. It was the hospital's responsibility, they said, since the baby didn't live more than 24 hours. They just made that rule up.

Anguita always knew about her deceased twin, but says she grew suspicious last year, when her parents admitted they didn't actually know where her sister was buried. So she went to the hospital where they were born.

"There wasn't even a record that my mother had given birth to us," Anguita said. "There was no family file at all. I said it must be here, especially because there was a death involved. Death records are kept forever. And yet there was no trace at all.
Illegally sold into adoption

Shocking as it may be, Anguita's case isn't all that uncommon in Spain. A group called ANADIR lobbies the government to investigate on behalf of people who suspect they were illegally sold into adoption. Its president, Antonio Barroso, says Anguita's case fits a pattern. Medical staff would tell a birth mother that her baby had died, and tell the adoptive parents that the mother had died. And he says, both parties assumed it was the truth.

"This was plausible because a doctor's word carried a lot of weight," Barroso said. "And so did that of a clergy member. In this way they took advantage of unsuspecting people."

Or, the parents were too afraid to protest. This was especially true during the Franco dictatorship, which ended in 1975. In Franco's early years doctors and clergy, sanctioned by the state, took thousands of babies from imprisoned communist mothers and gave them to conservative families. Ricard Vinyas, a history professor at the University of Barcelona, said many priests didn't see anything wrong with this.

"Certain clergy believed that these kids would be better off in what they considered a decent family," Vinyas said. "That is, conservative and so on. In the cases we're talking about now, there was no re-education project. It was purely business.
A lucrative business

Antonio Barroso, who was illegally adopted himself in the 1960"²s, says the agents who sold him made about as much as the cost of a small Madrid or Barcelona apartment. More and more stories like this may soon be coming to light.

In January, ANADIR compiled enough evidence to convince Spain's public prosecutor to launch a nation-wide investigation into 13-hundred cases. ANADIR's adoption investigator Enrique Villa Torres believes that number could reach 300,000.

Villa Torres says the illegal practice first came to light about a decade ago, when the government increased its oversight of adoptions. For decades before that, adoption was largely a private matter, left to individual doctors and families. And records were sealed.

Villa Torres says, he's compiled hard evidence against doctors, clergy members, hospital staff and civil servants that he says suggests a nation-wide criminal conspiracy.
Proof

"There's proof," Villa Torres said. "Back when the babies were stolen, the culprits didn't count on there one day being DNA evidence one day. We have signatures of doctors, for example, affirming that a child is the child of a certain mother, but today the DNA shows otherwise. These doctors must explain why they signed false birth certificates.

But large obstacles remain. Historian Ricard Vinyas says the case of Estafania Anguita's missing twin is typical not just for the alleged duping of her mother. He says the disappearance of the hospital medical records is common, too.

"Every once in a while you see in the news in Spain that they've found boxes and boxes of medical records just dumped in the trash," Vinyas said. "Maybe there is a change of management at some clinic, and so they just tossed all the old archives into the trash. It is very difficult give citizen information they deserve.

Still, the victims group ANADIR says they're receiving an avalanche of inquiries, both from anxious birth mothers and people who suspect they were adopted. There were 6,000 inquiries in February alone.

ANADIR has also set up a DNA data-base where people can search for matches. Last month they had their first match, between a mother and a daughter. The mother had been told her child had died.