Displaced Children and Stolen Babies in Contemporary Spain

This post was contributed by Dr Diana Marre, visiting research fellow at the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research (BISR). Here, Dr Marre gives an insight into her BISR Event on 29 June 2016: “Displaced Children and Stolen Babies in Contemporary Spain”

ConcentracionOn 16 June, ten days before the forthcoming Spanish presidential election, several organisations that represent children and babies who were victims of enforced disappearances in Spain between the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the 1990s, called for a public protest in Madrid using the slogan ‘Stop Francoist impunity’.

This call for public action is one of many that have followed the presentation of two reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2014. The reports focussed on enforced or involuntary child disappearances during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975), and the transition to the restoration of democracy (1976-1990). They argued that the only efforts to investigate these enforced disappearances were by victims’ families or non-governmental organisations, and noted that not only was the state not contributing to such efforts they had in fact systematically blocked or ignored research into the disappearances. Consequently the total number who have fallen victim to these enforced disappearances remains unknown.

Both reports referred to three groups of victims. Firstly, those who are still in mass graves awaiting exhumation, which consists of around 120,000 unidentified bodies in more than 400 mass graves. Secondly, there are the ‘war children’, who were the sons and daughters of the dead, imprisoned and vanquished during the Civil War and who were either adopted or placed in orphanages or similar institutions. Due to the lack of research, there is no clear data on how many children were victims of this practice. Thirdly, the reports referred to the so-called ‘stolen babies’ of Spain. Most of these babies were born using the practice of ‘twilight birth’ between 1950 and 1990, and were declared to be stillborn or to have died immediately after birth. They were then removed from their families and adopted. These victims were the children of single, poor or illiterate women or young couples with multiple children. Again, it is difficult to know the precise number of ‘stolen babies’, but current estimates suggest there were between 200,000 and 300,000 victims.

About the event

This event will ask why, in Spain, the enforced displacement of children in the ways described above still remains unrecognized and unpunished. We will examine what is considered to be one of the biggest, long-lasting and most wide-spread abductions of underage people, loss of custody by biological families and loss of

Sign up for the FREE event here

Sign up for the FREE event here

identity in the West. As an ex judge of the Spanish National High Court has noted, these enforced disappearances were a result of a ‘peculiar Spanish form of ‘legal’ disappearance of people during the Civil War and post-war period through a pseudo-juridical system that gave ‘legal’ coverage to the systematic abduction system of children’ (Garzón 2008).

This event will examine the role of fear and public secrets – the “unknown knowns” (Simmel 1906) – to achieve the aim of “remembering to forget” (Mookherjee 2006), the objective of the post-Franco dictatorship amnesty laws (1976, 1977), often referred to as the “laws of oblivion”.

Find out more

Works Cited

  • Garzón, B. (2008), Auto, vol. 53 de 2008 E, Madrid, Administración de Justicia, Juzgado Central de Instrucción n.º 5 Audiencia Nacional.
  • Mookherjee, N. (2006), ‘Remembering to forget’: public secrecy and memory of sexual violence in the Bangladesh war of 1971, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 12, 433-450.
  • Simmel, G. (1906), The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies, American Journal of Sociology, 11(4):441-498.
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