Prosecutor seeks probe into 'lost children' of Franco regime
Spain's chief prosecutor Tuesday called for an investigation into a state-approved programme during the Franco dictatorship under which babies were taken from their left-wing parents at birth.
The justice ministry should try to "discover the whereabouts of the children" who were snatched at birth and the false death certificates which were given to their parents in hospitals at the time, said the prosecutor, Javier Zaragoza, in a letter to Justice Minister Francisco Caamano.
He also called on the ministry to set up an office to assist those who believe they may have been victims of the programme, judicial sources said.
Thousands of children are believed to have been seized during the early years of General Francisco Franco's right-wing dictatorship that followed the 1936-39 Civil War and which lasted until his death in 1975.
A 1940 decree allowed the state to take children into custody if their "moral education" was at risk.
Firm numbers are hard to come by due to the poor state of Spanish archives and a reluctance by the government, until recently, to probe the Civil War era and its aftermath.
But up to 30,000 children were registered as being in state custody at some point during the 1940s and 1950s, raised mostly by religious orders.
Zaragoza said any investigation would not lead to criminal prosecutions due to the "technical and legal difficulties."
His request follows a meeting last month with members of an association of families who believe they have been victims of the programme.
He noted that an investigation into missing children was not part of the Law of Historical Memory, approved by the Spanish parliament in 2007 to rehabilitate the victims of Franco.
In 2008, however, Spain's best-known judge, Baltasar Garzon, called for a probe into the "disappearance" of children taken from Republican families as part of a ruling that accused the Franco regime of crimes against humanity.
"In 60 years they have not been the subject of any investigation whatsoever," he said at the time, adding that to "ignore this reality for longer ... would be unjust and cruel for the victims".
The Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, which seeks to help Franco-era victims, condemned as "unacceptable" that Zaragoza had not called for a criminal investigation into "the theft and sale of babies in the dictatorship and the early years of transition."
"Thousands of men and women are unaware of their birth families and many families are looking for children and siblings" who "did not die but were stolen after birth," it said.
© 2010 AFP