First. Isabel Agüera reported the alleged theft of her sister last year. / J-L
All over Spain there are mothers who have spent the last 30 or 40 years in uncertainty. Their cases are all different but with one thing in common: they were all told after giving birth that their babies had died, although circumstances gave rise to suspicion. The mothers were not allowed to see their babies’ bodies, neither have they found records of their deaths in registers or cemeteries. Recent years have seen a steady flow of cases, dating back mainly to the 1960s and 70s, being reported to the courts, as families have become aware that they had been the victims of the alleged organised theft of newborn babies for adoption by wealthy couples during the Franco regime.
Until last week it was up to each province’s public prosecution department to decide whether or not to follow up cases reported to the courts. Now, however, the Chief State Prosecutor has ordered departments to automatically investigate all the reports to establish whether there is sufficient indication of a criminal offence to justify refering them to a court.
So far 14 provincial prosecution departments, including Malaga, have more than 70 enquiries open with cases dating back to births between 1950 and 1990. This figure, however, is expected to increase as Anadir, a national association formed by victims of irregular adoptions, presented a joint complaint comprising 261 cases at the end of January. Each of these cases is now going to be dealt individually by the provincial department in question.
In the province of Malaga the Public Prosecution Department currently has ten enquiries open into cases of stolen babies. These refer to births that took place in local hospitals between 1957 and 1980. The last case is the most surprising as it allegedly occurred after the arrival of democracy.
Four of the allegedly stolen babies were born in the Carlos Haya hospital, three in the Hospital Civil, two in the Antequera hospital and one in the old 18 de julio hospital. The majority of the cases have been reported by the mothers themselves although two have been brought by the sisters of the missing babies.
This was the case of Isabel Agüera who brought the first report to the Malaga courts last July. She called for an enquiry into the birth of her sister in 1970 in the Hospital Civil. The prosecution department has found indications that criminal offences were committed, such as misappropriation of identity and document forgery, and this is the first case in the country to have been referred to a court. Isabel, from Estepona, had reason to suspect that her sister had not died at birth but was given in adoption or sold to another family. She has contradictory documents referring to the cause of death, the family never got to see the dead baby and funeral registers have no record of where the body was buried, even though they had been told by the hospital that the baby had been put in the family vault of a wealthy man. After the case made the headlines the courts began to receive a steady flow of similar reports.
One came from a woman in Badalona (Barcelona) who had given birth in Malaga’s Hospital Civil in 1967. She was sedated and when she woke up she was told that her baby had died. She never saw the body and was told that the hospital would take care of the burial. This story is repeated in the rest of the cases reported.