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Spain's Stolen Babies: A 50 Year Trafficking Scandal Revealed

Hemera/Thinkstock(MADRID) -- A new BBC documentary sheds light on a chilling practice that took place in Spain beginning under General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in the 1930’s. From this time to as late as the 1990s, thousands of mothers were told by doctors and nurses that their newborn babies had died, when this was not the case.

This practice of removing children from parents deemed “undesirable” and placing them with “approved” families was believed to have first been motivated by ideology, but it soon seemed to change. Newborn babies were taken from parents who were considered “morally” or economically “deficient” and then sold for as much as $8,000 to new parents.

The scale to which this baby trafficking was carried out was largely unknown until this year, when two childhood friends from a town near Barcelona discovered that they had been bought from a nun. It was not until the father of one of these men was on his deathbed, that he finally confessed to have bought him from a nun as a newborn baby.

After the pair went to the press with their story, more and more mothers around the country said they experienced eerily similar situations, and adoption lawyers agreed that they had come across cases similar to theirs more than just a few times.

One of the reasons why this scandal was hidden for so many years, is because it is closely linked to the Catholic Church, which held a hugely prominent role in Spain during Franco’s reign.

Nuns and priests were heavily involved in compiling waiting lists of would-be adoptive parents, while doctors allegedly lied to mothers about what happened to their children.

One doctor in particular, Dr. Eduardo Vela, has come up in a number of investigations, but he insists he has always acted within the law.

A Spanish magazine has even published photos of a dead baby stored in a freezer at the San Ramon Clinic, where Dr. Vela works, that was said to have been used to show mothers that their babies had died.  

Parents whose children were stolen after birth are now threatening to go to the European Court of Human Rights to urge the government into launching a national investigation. According to lawyers, there could be a total of 300,000 cases of stolen babies.

The BBC documentary by journalist Katya Adler is called Spain's Stolen Babies; it airs on Tuesday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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    Spain's Stolen Babies: A 50 Year Trafficking Scandal

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