A noble lie: child trafficking and the Catholic church

I was as appalled as anyone when I read about the documentary that just came out regarding Spain’s stolen children. Over a span of fifty years some three hundred thousand children were taken from their birth mothers and sold to couples who could afford the adoptions.

The children were trafficked by a secret network of doctors, nurses, priests and nuns in a widespread practice that began during General Franco’s dictatorship and continued until the early Nineties.

Hundreds of families who had babies taken from Spanish hospitals are now battling for an official government investigation into the scandal.

Several mothers say they were told their first-born children had died during or soon after they gave birth.

But the women, often young and unmarried, were told they could not see the body of the infant or attend their burial.

In reality, the babies were sold to childless couples whose devout beliefs and financial security meant that they were seen as more appropriate parents.

Documentation was then forged to make it look like adoption never took place, that the children had been born into those families, but it’s suggested that many of those couples had no idea they were buying a stolen child.

At the moment, that’s neither here nor there. I want to take a different angle on this. I was thinking about it instead of sleeping in this morning and wondering what kind of positive impact this may have had on Spain’s future.

What got me thinking about this was a chapter out of Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. U.S. crime rates were falling sharply in the early ’90s and theories abounded over the reasons why. Levitt and John Donohue, a law professor out of Stanford, came up with an ingenious one: the legalization of abortion after Roe v. Wade. Children who would have been born into single parent/low income families in bad neighbourhoods were not born, thus eliminating the potential for them to become criminals as teens and adults. Was that the destiny of every fetus aborted? Of course not, but it’s obvious a percentage of them would have resorted to a life of crime. After all, there was still crime in the ’90s so it makes sense that a percentage of kids born the ’70s found nothing productive to do with their lives except steal and kill people.

So, getting back to Spain. Am I condoning what they did? Fuck, no. Priests and nuns have a lot of power over Catholics and the assumed direct line to God creates a sense in believers those holy folk know what’s best and can be trusted not to lie through their teeth. I pity everyone who was tricked and deceived by the people involved in this long-running scam.

That said, I think it could be argued they unwittingly did Spain a tremendous favour by moving babies out of “bad” situations and into “good” ones. Never mind the assumption that these young mothers were sinners in the eyes of God because they had sex out of wedlock; if they were unwed, it was going to be difficult to hold down a job and raise a kid alone. They probably never got far through school, either. And, if they were actually married but dirt poor, that’s hardly the best environment for child-rearing, at least in terms of making sure a kid gets decent food and housing. We know this. We’ve seen enough evidence that this is the case. Transferring the babies to families that could afford to raise them well was a sensible decision. Horribly played out, but sensible.

I know nothing about Spain’s history or Franco’s regime so I have to nick some from Wikipedia:

Francoism professed a devotion to the traditional role of women in society, that is: loving child to her parents and brothers, faithful to her husband, residing with her family. Official propaganda confined her role to family care and motherhood. Immediately after the war, most progressive laws passed by the Republic aimed at equality between the sexes were made void. Women could not become judges, or testify in trial. They could not become university professors. Their affairs and economy had to be managed by their father or by their husbands. Even in the 1970s a woman fleeing from an abusive husband could be arrested and imprisoned for “abandoning the home” (abandono del hogar). Until the 1970s a woman could not have a bank account without a co-sign by her father or husband.

And due to the sheer number of human rights violations in other ways,

in 2007, the Spanish government banned all public references to the Franco regime and removed any statues, street names, memorials and symbols associated with the regime. Churches which retain plaques commemorating Franco and the victims of his Republican opponents may lose state aid.

I hope I get a chance at some point to see this documentary. I wonder how many of these people will be able to reunite with their birth families. Franco had “encouraged” a lot of people to emigrate instead of sit jobless in Spain and if the Church had nothing in the way of compunction when it came to tweaking church records, good luck getting to the truth of origins. That’s one hell of a mess for all involved.

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3 Responses to A noble lie: child trafficking and the Catholic church

  1. Tmso says:

    That is horrible. I’m not sure I can agree with you that these kids ended up “better”. However, if the girls had a choice to give them up, wouldn’t that have been something? For once, something going right in Spain.

    Spain’s history is full of extremes like that. Not sure why…I suppose it can been said about any country.

  2. 1minionsopinion says:

    I was taking an extreme view just for kicks really. Yeah, it would have been better had the women been given the option instead of being lied to and manipulated but I think it’s fair to say a portion of those kids wound up with better lives than they would have had with their own families. Stands to reason. That said, they have every right to be pissed off at how their lives were irrevocably altered by the Church’s heavy-handed, money-grabbing tactics. I hope many do get reunited with their families.

  3. Roberr says:

    Half a million child trafficking cases, millions abused – what will it take to shut them down? Ironic that that say they are against it now

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