Spain’s Theft of Children Under Franco Echoes Loss of Fathers’ Rights in U.S. Adoption Cases Today

Sometimes it seems that the U.S. press intentionally parodies itself.  This is not a National Lampoon of a Time Magazine article; it’s a Time Magazine article (Time, 3/18/11).

I don’t mean to be flippant, because what the article reports on is extremely serious.  It’s about a practice that began in Spain during the Franco era.  It seems the fascist government had some definite ideas about who should raise children and who shouldn’t, so it developed a program the article describes this way:

In the years after Franco won Spain’s civil war, he had tens of thousands of former Republicans and other dissidents arrested. The small children of imprisoned women dissidents were sent first to state-run centers or convents, and then reassigned to families whose values better coincided with the regime’s. “The state considered these children in need of re-education,” says University of Barcelona historian Ricard Vinyes, who has written a book on the subject. “It was actually proud of these efforts and would publish the results of how many children had been ‘welcomed’ annually.”

That official practice seems to have ended in the late 1940s, but, at least in some minds, a precedent had been established.

In what appear to be thousands of cases throughout Spain, individual doctors and nurses – many of the latter nuns – took newborns from obstetric wards and sold them to prospective adopted parents. That’s the claim by victims who, in many cases, can support their theory with death certificates that have clearly been falsified or cemetery documents that contradict what parents were told at the supposed time of death.

In short, there was a market for healthy newborn children, and hospitals developed the habit of selling the children to adoption agencies that were doubtless all too happy to get them.  The agencies would then receive money for each child from the adoptive parent, turning a profit in the process. 

Meanwhile, the hospitals would cover up the whole scam by telling the parents the child had died and issuing a fake death certificate to ‘prove’ it.

That was in the 1960s, and now, for the first time, the Spanish Parliament is listening to the complaints of parents who lost children, they believe, in just that manner.  Some 1,000 parents have joined in a lawsuit, presumably to recover damages from the hospitals, for their stolen infants.

Apart from the outrages that apparently were committed against Spanish parents between the 1930s and 60s, there’s a good bit to say not only about the parallels to U.S. adoption practices currently, but also about press coverage of the theft of children from fathers via the adoption process.

Of course there are clear differences between what went on in Spain and what happens to U.S. fathers today.  For one thing, hospitals are not in the business of selling newborns, lying to their parents and forging birth certificates.  And the intention of adoption law is not to deprive of their children people whom the government decides are enemies of the state.

But whatever the intentions, the results, at least as far as fathers go, are remarkably similar.

Child theft?  Ask John Wyatt or any number of other dads if that happens in this country, and with the imprimatur of the state.  An adoption agency official and its attorney, in cahoots with the mother of his child, walked out of the hospital to a nearby hotel where the child was handed over, put on a plane and taken to Utah.  Wyatt, a fit father who’s never made a secret of his desire to raise his child, got there a few hours late.  Looks like theft to me.

Money?  At every stage of the proceedings, it’s money that makes the process go.  Explicit payments for children are of course outlawed.  But adoptive parents routinely pay “for the mothers’ medical and living expenses prior to and after birth.”  And of course the adoption agency gets paid as do the attorneys.  Oh, it’s all quite above board, but let’s not pretend that it would all work the same way if there were tighter oversight of who gets paid what and by whom.

Frank deprivation of parental rights?  I don’t think I have to say a lot about that, given all I’ve written in the past.  But suffice it to say that adoption law throughout the country does all it can to deprive fathers of their children, irrespective of their fitness to parent.  Putative Father Registries are one handy way, but the simple expedient of mothers lying about paternity is another.  If she says she doesn’t know who the dad is, the court will publish a notice of the adoption in the newspaper and if no dad comes forward, the adoption goes through.  There have never been, to my knowledge, any adverse consequences for any mother’s lying about paternity in an adoption case.

As if to make the case even clearer, the Time article is all about mothers losing their children.  That of course is an outrage, if even only half of what the Spanish litigants claim is true.

But isn’t it curious that, in a lengthy article, the word ‘father’ doesn’t appear.  Every aggrieved person is a mother; none are fathers.  But, terrible as the mothers’ suffering surely is, didn’t fathers lose children too?

Of course they did, but, as is so often the case with the U.S. press, when it comes to parenting, fathers’ needs, fathers’ rights, fathers’ suffering at the loss of a child somehow seem to count for less.  Indeed, that’s exactly what we’ve seen in countless adoption cases.  In the Benjamin Wyrembek case, for example, if there was ever an article (other than mine) that was at all sympathetic to him, I haven’t seen it.

According to them, the deprivation of his rights to his child was, if not admirable, certainly acceptable.  Has there yet been an article (again, apart from mine) that criticized the plain fact that the mother of Wyrembek’s child lied repeatedly?  What about the fact that the adoptive parents, knowing full well that they would eventually lose in court, nevertheless kept the child from his father for three years, thereby guaranteeing that the eventual handover would be more traumatic for the boy than it otherwise would have been?

No, as far as the U.S. press is concerned, all of that is perfectly fine.  In fact, it’s the dad, who’s done nothing wrong, who must be criticized as in some way deficient and interfering in something that as they see it, is none of his business.

All of that of course eerily echoes the theft of children by the Spanish government and later Spanish hospitals.  What gets Time‘s dander up is that that was done in a foreign country under a fascist dictatorship.  Above all, it was done to mothers as well as fathers.  When it happens in the U.S. and when it’s done only to fathers, it either escapes their notice altogether or they rationalize the practice as in the best interests of the child.

But that of course was precisely the rationale offered by the hospitals in the 60s.  As one journalist investigating the matter explained,

“Nuns and priests who simply decided that the child would be better off with families they trusted than with the ones to which they had been born.”

Just so.

Thanks to Betsy for the heads-up.

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