Thursday, November 17, 2011

babies' rights: BBC: How Spain and the Church colluded to steal babies

17th nov 2011 CE

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From: sri venkat

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15335899

*How the State and the Church colluded to steal babies*
* *
By Katya Adler BBC News, Spain

Spanish society has been shaken by allegations of the theft and trafficking
of thousands of babies by nuns, priests and doctors, which started under
Franco and continued up to the 1990s.

I first met Manoli Pagador in Getafe, in a working-class suburb of Madrid.
She was attending a meeting for people affected by the scandal Spaniards
call "ninos robados" - stolen children.

She has three daughters and lots of grandchildren, but she has never got
over the loss of her first-born - a son - nearly 40 years ago.

She had come to think she was crazy for believing he was alive, instead of
dead and buried as hospital doctors had told her.

"Now," she said, gripping my hand tightly. "Look around the room at the
other women here. All like me. The same background. The same experience.
I'm not mad and my family finally believes me."


In 1971 Manoli, who was 23 at the time and not long married, gave birth to
what she was told was a healthy baby boy, but he was immediately taken away
for what were called routine tests.

Nine interminable hours passed. "Then, a nun, who was also a nurse, coldly
informed me that my baby had died," she says.

They would not let her have her son's body, nor would they tell her when
the funeral would be.

Did she not think to question the hospital staff?

"Doctors, nuns?" she says, almost in horror. "I couldn't accuse them of
lying. This was Franco's Spain. A dictatorship. Even now we Spaniards tend
not to question authority."

The scale of the baby trafficking was unknown until this year, when two men
- Antonio Barroso and Juan Luis Moreno, childhood friends from a seaside
town near Barcelona - discovered that they had been bought from a nun.
Their parents weren't their real parents, and their life had been built on
a lie.

Juan Luis Moreno discovered the truth when the man he had been brought to
call "father" was on his deathbed.

"He said, 'I bought you from a priest in Zaragoza'. He said that Antonio
had been bought as well."

The pair were hurt and angry. They say they felt like two dogs that had
been bought at a pet shop. An adoption lawyer they turned to for advice
said he came across cases like theirs all the time.

The pair went to the press and suddenly the story was everywhere. Mothers
began to come forward across Spain with disturbingly similar stories.

'Approved families'

After months of requests from the BBC, the Spanish government finally put
forward Angel Nunez from the justice ministry to talk to me about Spain's
stolen children.

Asked if babies were stolen, Mr Nunez replied: "Without a doubt".

"How many?" I asked.

"I don't dare to come up with figures," he answered carefully. "But from
the volume of official investigations I dare to say there were many."

Lawyers believe that up to 300,000 babies were taken.

The practice of removing children from parents deemed "undesirable" and
placing them with "approved" families, began in the 1930s under the
dictator General Francisco Franco.

At that time, the motivation may have been ideological. But years later, it
seemed to change - babies began to be taken from parents considered morally
- or economically - deficient. It became a money-spinner, too.

The scandal is closely linked to the Catholic Church, which under Franco
assumed a prominent role in Spain's social services including hospitals,
schools and children's homes.

Nuns and priests compiled waiting lists of would-be adoptive parents, while
doctors were said to have lied to mothers about the fate of their children.

The name of one doctor, Dr Eduardo Vela, has come up in a number of victim
investigations.

In 1981, Civil Registry sources indicate that 70% of births at Dr Vela's
San Ramon clinic in Madrid were registered as "mother unknown".

This was legal under Spanish law, and was meant to protect the anonymity of
unmarried mothers. It is alleged that this was also widely used to cover up
baby theft and trafficking.

Dr Vela stands accused of telling women their babies had died when they had
not and handing over those newborn children to other couples for cash.

A Spanish magazine published photographs of a dead baby kept in a freezer
at the San Ramon clinic, supposedly to show mothers that their child had
died.

He refused to give the BBC an interview. But, by coincidence, I had
recently given birth at a clinic he founded, so I was able to book an
appointment with him.

We met at his private practice in his home in Madrid. The man painted as a
monster in the Spanish media was old and smiley, but his smile soon
disappeared when I confessed to being a journalist.

Dr Vela grabbed a metal crucifix which had been standing on his desk. He
moved towards me brandishing it in my face. "Do you know what this is,
Katya?" he said. "I have always acted in his name. Always for the good of
the children and to protect the mothers. Enough."

Dr Vela insists he always acted within the law.

Empty graves

After Franco's death in 1975, the major political parties agreed an amnesty
to help smooth the transition to democracy.

But this amnesty law has never been repealed, so attempts to investigate
Spain's baby trafficking as a national crime against humanity have been
rejected by the country's judiciary and resisted by its politicians.

"Thirty-five years have passed since the death of the dictator… Evidently,
we still have problems from the past. Social problems and personal or even
cultural problems and the policy of this government has been trying to
solve them," says the justice ministry's Angel Nunez.

The Spanish government's refusal to set up a national inquiry into the
scandal has frustrated affected families, who in many cases are carrying
out their own investigations, as best they can.

Babies' graves have been dug up across the country for DNA-testing. Some
have revealed nothing but a pile of stones, while others have contained
adult remains.

Spaniards have flocked to clinics to take DNA tests in the hope of
reuniting their families.

The first few matches have now been made between so-called stolen children
and their biological mothers. But there could potentially have already been
so many more. 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.

Manoli Pagador is still tortured by the events of 40 years ago. She told me
she has been taking medication ever since.

"You can't just say to yourself, I have to forget it and that's it.

"It's not something you forget, it's with you for the rest of your life."

Katya Adler investigates in This World: Spain's Stolen
Babies<http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b016d7hz>on BBC Two at 2100BST
on Tuesday 18 October and on
Assignment <http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002vsn0> on BBC World Service

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