A sleeping baby is visible, as is a hand reaching out to take it.
More than 300,000 Spanish babies were reportedly stolen and sold by the Catholic Church from 1939 to the early 1990s. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Daniel Emert/Flickr)

Over the past five decades, as many as 300,000 newborn Spanish babies were stolen from their parents and sold to families that General Francisco Franco and the Catholic Church considered to be more devout. The original parents were told that their child had died, according to a recent BBC 2 TV documentary entitled “Spain’s Stolen Babies.”

‘Spain’s Stolen Babies’ rediscovered

The Daily Mail reports that a network of doctors, nurses, priests and nuns worked together under the right-wing authoritarian regime of Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco (1939 to 1975) to steal and sell babies. Even though Franco died in 1975, Spain’s Catholic Church maintained the baby-stealing practice into the early 1990s, according to reports.

Hundreds of families who were told by Franco’s network that their first-born children had died soon after birth are now demanding that the Spanish government launch an official investigation.

Young, single mothers deemed unfit

The most common targets in Spain’s stolen baby controversy were young, unwed mothers. The BBC 2 documentary notes that the mothers were told that they could neither see the body of their supposedly dead child nor attend the burial service, ostensibly because they were full of sin and did not deserve such pleasantries.

Recent exhumation of the infants’ graves has revealed bones belonging to either adults or animals, if anything at all. In some cases, grieving parents were shown a baby corpse that officials kept in a freezer for that purpose.

Birth certificates were intentionally forged with the adoptive parents’ names. It is believed that most adoptive parents did not know that the babies they adopted were stolen.

“The situation is incredibly sad for thousands of people,” said investigative journalist Katya Adler. “There are men and women across Spain whose lives have been turned upside-down. … There are also mothers who have maintained for years that their babies did not die – and were labeled ‘hysterical’.”

Spain’s stolen babies: 15 percent of total adoptions

Experts have discovered that the case of Spain’s stolen babies accounts for as much as 15 percent of all adoptions in Spain between 1960 and 1989. Spain’s government began to regulate adoptions in 1987. Individual hospitals had previously been responsible. Once claims of improprieties began to surface, DNA tests and the admissions of various nuns opened the door on what could prove to be one of Europe’s more horrifying domestic controversies.

San Ramon clinic exposed

Evidence has connected a San Ramon clinic in Spain’s lleida province to the baby stealing operation. The BBC 2 documentary notes that in 1969, a woman named Ines Perez was encouraged by Catholic priests to fake a pregnancy so that she could be given a stolen baby girl.

“The priest gave me padding to wear on my stomach,” said Perez.

Stolen children of the Franco regime

Sources

BBC 2: “Spain’s Stolen Babies” documentary: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b016d7hz

Daily Mail: http://bit.ly/q4R3qP

Francisco Franco Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_Franco

The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/27/spanish-babies-stolen-clinic/print

Towleroad: http://www.towleroad.com/2011/10/spanish-babies-draft.html

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