Stolen Spanish Children

Here’s a story from the New York Times a couple of days ago.   It appears that for many years children were stolen from their parents–mostly newborns.   This may have begun as a politically motivated operation (akin to one in Argentina), but it appears to have continued as a profit-motivated enterprise.

There’s nothing to say in defense of this.   Clearly enormous wrongs were perpetrated and the reasons don’t matter all that much.   It’s an appalling story no matter how you look at it. 

I figured I should post it in part because questions of baby-selling/baby-stealing come up sometimes in discussions of surrogacy or use of unknown gamete providers or international adoption.   I have been resistant (to say the least) to those characterizations.   But it isn’t because I don’t think baby-selling or baby-stealing is possible.   This article details an instance where I think the characterizations are warranted.   And I bet we are pretty much in agreement about that.

These are also cases where DNA evidence is enormously informative.   No one can truly restore these children–now grown–to the families they were taken from.   Childhood passes and is lost.   But people can learn something of the truth about what happened and that matters, too.


4 responses to “Stolen Spanish Children

  1. So Julie who do you think their parents are?

    I think the people who made them are their parents and the people who raised them are not their parents despite having their names on the birth certificate. I think that they are not even their adoptive parents because adoption is a contractual relationship between the parents and the adoptive parents to raise the child of the parents and then the court has to approve the contract, right? The court approves the deal struck between the parents and the adopting party and that sort of makes the child the object of the contract which I find profoundly disturbing but, at least there is some documentation that the parents consented and also that the court approved it. I think its terrible that parents have to conceal themselves from their child or that they have that choice if that is what they want. I think its terrible that adoptive parents can decide not to tell the child if that is what they want. I think its terrible that the court puts the names of the people who adopt on the birth certificate so that it appears that they are the parents rather than the adoptive parents as this can deceive a person who is not told they are adopted. But at least there is a procedure for making sure that consent was given. Its clearly the intent of the law that a child’s birth certificate not name unrelated people unless there is an adoption.

    And that is why anonymously donated genes should terrify the public to the same degree as anonymously donated infants. How can anyone really be sure that they have the anonymous people’s consent to raise their offspring? What if they do not have their consent? Are they ever really the parents of the child they’re raising? They get their names on the birth certificates. They get legally recognized as the child’s parents. The child will grow to think of them as parents. But are they really?

    I think people are either adoptive parents or they are parents or they are just up to no damn good fooling themselves and everyone else in the process. Dangerous mind games.

    • You’ve asked a crucial question that’s very hard for me to answer. Who indeed are their parents. I actually think I might need to add some facts to even begin to answer.

      Suppose the baby is born and taken from the hospital within hours–as often does seem to have happen. Suppose it is given to entirely unsuspecting people who are seeking to adopt a child and are told some plausible story about where the child came from. And suppose they do a terrific job of raising the child for the next fifteen years. Let’s also suppose that they are honest with the child about having become parents via adoption, but since they know nothing of the background circumstances, they do not tell the child any of that. Then let’s suppose the truth emerges. Who are this child’s parents? Or who should be recognized as such? (The adoption might well be void under these circumstances, but I won’t take that way out just now.)

      I’m sure this is no surprise to you–it’s very hard for me to say the people who innocently and lovingly raised the child for fifteen years are not parents. Both the child and the adults have believed they are parents, they have acted the role, and I’d expect that the psychological parent/child relationship exists. It would be a terrible thing for the child to simply announce that these adults were no one in particular and just move the child to the other set of adults.

      Now it’s also true that a terrible thing was done to the original family–particularly to the woman who gave birth. (I think it is interesting that the story focusses more on the women then the men in those original families.) If things had gone as they should have, they would clearly be the parents of this child and so it’s clear that their chance to be parents was taken from them. That’s a horrible loss. And someone is responsible (though in my hypo, not the adoptive parents) and could/should be punished for deliberately inflicting that harm on them. But simply returning the now-15-old to them seems to me to be treating the child like stolen property–a rare painting that can just be handed back to the owner. It ignores the fact that the child is a person with full-blown social/psychological relationships and indeed, a life in whatever place the child happens to have lived.

      So I suppose on these facts, in my world, the adoptive people are the parents of the child. I would dearly hope that they appreciate the wrong done and also the importance of those original parent(s) and encourage the development of a relationship between the child and those adults. Together maybe everyone can forge a web of relationships that would be beneficial to all and make the best of a terrible situation.

      To be clear, the key to my analysis here is that everyone (the original parents, the adoptive parents and the child) is innocent. In that case, I think we have to make the best of a bad situation and that the primary concern has to be what will be least damaging to the child. I would not treat the child as property to be returned to the original parents.

      If you change my assumptions–make one set of the parents complicit or blameworthy–then I think I’d reach a different solution. As with the Sean Goldman case (which continues to draw a lot of attention) and various others, there are overriding reasons why we might not want to let a wrong-doer benefit from their wrong-doing.

      All that said, I’m curious about how you would resolve my particular hypothetical and how you would square that with the well-being of the child. As I think about it, I suspect my need for more facts before i can resolve the matter is grounded in needing to have some basis for a guess about where the child’s needs lie. Do you instead assume the needs always lie with the genetically related folks?

      • I agree with you completely actually. It might well be best for the child to finish out his youth in the same home he’s grown up in, since as you said the adopitve couple did nothing wrong. I agree that since his home life is good he should be gradually introduced and integrated into his own non-adoptive family, and by slowly I mean like barbecues and birthday parties working toward weekend getaways with both families maybe leading up to spending spring break at his family’s house and that is only if the kid wants to. Otherwise it should be lots of barbecues and joint family outings. I don’t know that I’d reach a different conclusion even if it was a black market adoption or a case of missappropriated eggs or sperm. I mean, if you adopt a kid with no real proof of who relinquished the child or have no real proof that the egg you bought was from a woman who meant to give it to you, its all kinda shady, no? But there is a difference between that kinda shady and the kinda shady that keeps a girl chained up in a back yard for 15 years – so yes, even I can see that removing the child from somewhere that they are totally happy to be plopped into a totally forign environment could you know mess them up.
        Legally though in your senario I think a court would have to say that the adoption itself was invalid, lack of consent should make it void so that essentially the child was simply living apart from his or her parents for his or her entire life. I would expect that the parents in this situation would reach the same conclusion that you and I did – that the child should continue to thrive in the home of the family that has been raising him or her all those years while getting to know his parents and siblings. Maybe a court should step in and force that decision on the parents and say – hey listen I’m making these people your child’s legal guardians during this really long reunification process and we will see how it goes.
        I think that it would be horribly disrespectful for a court to tell the people whose child was kidnapped that they don’t count, they have no legal authority and that the court was going to basically enforce the terms of an illegal adoption and let the adoptive parents make the call on what was best for their stolen kid. That just sucks. The adoptive family would have to understand that the adoption was never actually finalized since the consent was falsified even though they lived years and years as if it were totally a done deal. I think the kid could go along calling the people who’d been raising him or her mom and dad, but the court records should show that they are guardians appointed custody or something other than either his parents or adoptive parents.
        I am knee deep in my own fictive kinships, some of my own choosing some not so I do actually get it.
        I thought of you this weekend when I saw my friends and their kids. Two moms with 2 kids from the same dad that they don’t call dad but donor. They are back together and the kids are big. Their son is starting school with Ruby next year. I say their son because I do think of him that way. They gave birth to eachother’s kids conceived by the same guy. I remember at work when she was pregnant saying “If you picked a guy that does not want to know them, you can just shoot me now.” and she goes “no Red, we would’nt do that to you, he’s wtbk” I said “good cause its all about me, glad we’re on the same page”

        • Wow–didn’t think you’d agree. Learn something new every day. Like “wtbk”—which I assume means willing to be known?

          The scenarios in cases like these are going to be complicated, as you suggest and I’d be most comfortable with individually crafted solutions taking into account the specific facts and relationships.

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