Courts shine light on Spain’s child-trade shame

Published Date: 10 July 2011

By Raphael Minder
in Seville
AT THE BEHEST of grieving parents, Spanish judges are investigating hundreds of complaints that infants were abducted and sold for adoption over a 40-year period.

What may have begun as Fascist retribution on leftist families during the dictatorship of General Franco appears to have mutated into a trafficking business in which doctors, nurses and even nuns colluded with criminal networks.

The cases, which could run into the thousands, are jolting a country still shaken by the spoken and unspoken horrors of Spain’s 1936-39 Civil War and Franco’s rule. Earlier this month, 78-year-old Concepción Rodrigo Romero joined the ranks of Spanish parents who are turning to the courts to uncover the fate of their babies.

Romero, a former seamstress, gave birth, prematurely, in 1971. A doctor in a Seville hospital told her she had had a son who was small but “fine and capable of getting a lot bigger,” she recalled. The doctor never reappeared, and she never saw her baby again. Two days later, another doctor at the hospital told her husband that the baby had been sent to another hospital but had died. The second hospital had taken care of the burial, the doctor said, and the body lay in Seville’s San Fernando cemetery, in an unmarked grave.

“Deep inside, I’ve always known that my son was stolen from me,” Romero said.

Spain’s judiciary was forced into action after Anadir, an association formed to represent people searching for missing children or parents, filed its first complaints in January. Attorney General Cándido Conde-Pumpido announced last month that 849 cases were being examined, adding that 162 could now be classified as criminal proceedings because of evidence of abduction.

The cases stretch from 1950 to 1990, continuing well after Franco’s death in 1975.

Antonio Barroso, the president of Anadir, said he believed Spain had become a hub for gangs operating an international trade, with many newborns sold into adoption overseas.

Barroso, 42, founded Anadir last year, after being told by a friend that they were both adopted. He took DNA samples from the woman he had always known as his mother and confronted her after tests showed that his sample and hers were not a match. She admitted paying a nun for a baby and misleading her son about his birth for decades.

Barroso said he had since tracked down the nun, who had worked in a maternity ward. His lawsuit – against the nun and hospital staff – has yet to be heard and he is still searching for his real parents.

A handful of adopted people have managed to find their parents, but so far most have preferred to remain anonymous. To help with legal matters, Anadir and other similar associations are trying to recruit lawyers willing to work on a pro bono basis.

As in Barroso’s case, a few nuns have confessed to selling children, but without suggesting that they were part of a criminal network.

Flawed records are central to the complaint filed by Dolores Díaz Cerpa, who alleges that her newborn was abducADVERTISEMENT

ted in 1973. She had been told by a doctor she was carrying twins. She gave birth to a daughter, but a nurse denied that she had borne another child.

Always suspecting a lie, she asked the hospital for another copy of her daughter’s birth registration. Instead, she received a registration for a boy.

“The hospital suggested this was an administrative error, but nobody can convince me that I haven’t sadly been right for decades,” she said.

Some grieving parents said they allowed hospitals to handle burials because their insurance policies did not cover such costs. Others said they were too naïve or uneducated to challenge medical staff.

During the Franco era and in its immediate aftermath, “you simply didn’t challenge what an official told you,” said María Luisa Puro Rodríguez, a former tobacco factory worker who claims her newborn was abducted in 1976 from a Malaga hospital. “We now live in a society where it is normal to question what we hear,” she said. “I’ve learned this bitter lesson and am now ready to fight all the way to find out what actually happened.”