DNA identification has brought together two sets of siblings in Valencia this week after they were identified as victims of the “stolen babies” scandal of the Franco dictatorship.
Two sisters, who had no knowledge about the existence of each other, as well as a brother and sister, are now getting to know their new families thanks to the work of the DNA bank, set up by the Valencian government along with the Valencian research institute Fisabio.
“We are taking an important step in democratic quality with the aim of bringing closure to a very dark chapter in our history,” said the councillor for Democratic Quality, Rosa Pérez Garijo, at a press conference together with Fisabio researcher Llúcia Martínez.
Who were Spain’s stolen babies?
Light is now being shed on some of the darkest secrets from the Franco regime, among them the horror of the “stolen babies”. Mothers who were unwed or poor often found themselves in maternity wards run by nuns. Their hospital stays would begin with the nuns trying to persuade them to give up their babies for adoption, an option that was taken up by some, while others refused. Once the babies were born some mothers would be told their infant had been stillborn orin other cases, that it had died shortly after birth. Given their weakened state, not to mention the political system of the country at the time, the mothers were unable to do anything other than believe what the nuns and doctors told them.
However, very often their babies had not died but had instead been sold to wealthy Catholic families who could not have children of their own. The reasoning was that these stable families could offer the newborns a far better life than their biological mothers, as well as the children being brought up within the Catholic faith. The exact number of babies that were stolen is unclear but some estimates put the figure at tens of thousands, with the majority being taken during the 50s and 60s, although the practice continued into the 1970s.
Although the reports on the four cases reported in Valencia this week are provisional, the intention is to inform the Justice system when the definitive results are available. However, the anonymity of these two pairs of siblings, each born to the same mother and father and all during the years of the dictatorship, will be maintained. Nor will the place where the babies were stolen be made public, something that only the associations involved in the cases know.
Among these stolen babies, the characteristic case of the two sisters stands out, as both were unaware of the existence of the other and only had the suspicion of having been stolen, said the researcher.
The four people verified as stolen babies are the result of the “costly” analysis over a period of months of 134 biological samples collected: 91 from relatives and 43 from possible cases. These 134 samples were taken from a list of 231, but it was impossible to get to all of them because of the gap in the data and the “lack of trust” in providing them.
So far, sample collections of possible stolen babies have been organised at Fisabio in the three provinces of the Valencia region. The intention is to continue carrying out regular sample collections and the investigators have asked people who have “suspicions or certainties” to contact stolen babies associations.
“We will organise as many collections as necessary”, promised the researcher, who praised the work of the Regional Ministry and Fisabio for implementing these large DNA sequencing techniques and “going a little further than usual”.
Calls for a national DNA bank
In order to advance in the identification of stolen babies, Garijo has once again defended the need for a DNA bank at at national level, something she has already conveyed to government representatives, as no other autonomous region has a similar system and in many cases it is difficult to track people down because they have moved to different regions throughout their lives. “We know that an autonomous bank falls short,” she said.
“The issue of stolen babies should have been started many, many years ago. We are still in our infancy”, she added, as well as regretting that relatives who try to seek information on these cases encounter “many, many difficulties”.
Alongside the search for stolen babies, Garijo pointed out that almost 66% of the mass graves in the Valencian Region have been opened and their remains exhumed, while the catalogue of places of democratic remembrance in places such as Albatera (Alicante) and the elimination of Francoist vestiges continues to be drawn up.
Garijo also highlighted her recent meeting with the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, a country that she sees as an example in the identification of stolen babies, having accounted for some 500 children who were taken and 132 who have been located. “They are giving us a great lesson in remembrance, justice and reparation”, she said, and highlighted the “complete collaboration” between associations, institutions and the justice system.
These are the organisations that work with the Valencia government in the identification of stolen babies: Asociación Víctimas de Alicante, Bebés Robados e Adopciones Irregulares; Asociación SOS Bebés Robados de València; SOS Bebés Robados Comunitat Valenciana; Plataforma Foro Internacional de Víctimas por Desapariciones Forzadas Infantiles ‘Te estamos buscando‘ (International Platform of Victims of Enforced Child Disappearances ‘We are looking for you’).