Imagine the grief a mother must feel when she is told that her baby has died in childbirth. Then imagine what it must be like to discover, many years later, that the child had not died at all, but was secretly spirited away and given to someone else.
That is what happened in Spain during the 40-year dictatorship of General Franco. Spanish authorities are now investigating astonishing allegations that for over four decades government officials sanctioned the abduction of thousands of babies.
It appears that the thefts usually happened in maternity clinics and nursing homes, with the active collusion of doctors, nurses and even nuns, and that state officials and civil servants then helped with the cover up. Once the babies had been taken - often from women who were known political opponents of Franco or relatives of those who had fought against him during the country's civil war in the 1930s - they were then sold or given to childless parents among the regime's supporters.
Since the scandal broke last year, the number of cases has spiralled, with anguished parents wanting to know where their children ended up. Other claimants are people who have always suspected they were adopted and who now want to track down their true biological parents. But with records falsified, medical staff dispersed to the winds and officialdom slow to help, it is an almost impossible task.
Braulia Banderas Franco, from Valencia, has good reason to believe her baby did not die as she was told. When she eventually retrieved the birth certificate she found that her husband's signature had been forged on the document and that the name and location of the clinic where she gave birth had been falsified: "The names of the doctors are false. Everything is forged. It says that my baby died at midday, and that's not true. Everything is a lie."
Understandably the victims wanted the perpetrators brought to justice. But for lawyer Enrique Vila this is both a professional and personal quest. While he represents some of those demanding prosecutions, he says he too was adopted illegally and can not trace his birth mother. He now thinks the doctors involved should be in jail.
"Without a doubt they should. Some of those doctors are still alive and practising and there is enough evidence to convict them."
This episode of People & Power by ABC producer Bronwen Reed and reporter Phil Matthews, tells the remarkable story of a lost generation and the anguish of people searching desperately for their misplaced loved ones.
Source: Al Jazeera