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Victims of Spanish baby-theft policy demand probe

Victims of a baby-stealing policy approved by Spanish General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship filed a formal demand Thursday for an investigation into more than 260 cases.

Anadir, an association fighting for the stolen children and their families, presented the demand at the Madrid attorney general’s office with evidence including DNA tests and testimony from nurses who admitted stealing babies.

The demand was made on behalf of the victims and families of 261 snatched babies, and Anadir lawyer Enrique Vila said many others are expected to join the complaint.

“We get more and more calls from people who have doubts about their origins, because they have no physical resemblance with their parents or grandparents, or because their parents had them at an advanced age and they are single children,” he told AFP.

Anadir estimates there could be as many as 300,000 cases during the 1939-75 dictatorship and up to the end of the 1980s.

“It is very hard to know how many families are affected because many stolen children do not know they were stolen and will without a doubt die without ever finding out,” said Vila.

Children of jailed left-wing opponents were stolen from their mothers with state approval and often the blessing of the Roman Catholic Church to purge Spain of Marxist influence.

A 1940 decree allowed the state to take children into custody if their “moral education” was at risk.

Historians say many of the “lost children” were put in Catholic religious orders and became nuns or priests while others were illegally adopted by other families — usually supporters of the regime — with changed identities.

Many of the same doctors, nurses and officials who carried out the Franco-era policy are accused of continuing it after his death as an illegal business that provided babies for cash to women unable to give birth.

In many cases new mothers were told their babies had died suddenly within hours of birth and the hospital had taken care of their burials when in fact they were given to another family, according to Anadir.

Vila said medical staff took advantage of the poor oversight over adoptions at the time, with doctors having “a great deal of power”.

The victims were usually vulnerable women who were not expected to strongly protest the official version of their baby’s death, he added.

“They were women from modest backgrounds, who did not have the means to mount a legal challenge,” Vila said.

After Franco died, the abuses of his regime were swept under a so-called “pact of forgetting” in the interest of a smooth transition to democracy.

But in recent years the pact has started to crumble, especially after Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose grandfather was shot by a Francoist firing squad, came to power in 2004.

The Association for for the Recovery of Historical Memory, a non-profit group founded in 2000 that has led efforts to exhume the bodies of civilians killed by Franco’s forces that were left in mass graves across the country, welcomed Anadir’s push to have the baby thefts investigated.

“This goes in the same direction as our fight,” the association’s president and founder Emilio Silva told AFP.

Anadir was founded by 41-year-old Antonio Barroso who discovered in 2008 that he had been stolen from his biological parents and sold by a nun to the couple who raised him.