The world reacted with horror after news stories broke about a network in post-Civil War Spain that was dedicated to stealing babies from their rightful mothers — usually poor women, some of whom were pregnant out of wedlock — and selling them to well-off couples. But it has emerged that these networks, which were in existence until 1990, did not just operate in Spanish territory, but also brought in babies from abroad.
The Civil Guard has discovered the existence of a scheme that took advantage of women who had just given birth in Morocco, and used the exclave of Melilla as a base of operations. Many of the newborns were given to families in Valencia, a region that has also emerged as having been a destination for children that were taken from their parents in Spain.
The authorities have discovered 28 cases of babies that were taken from Morocco to Melilla, before being transfered to the peninsula using false documents that made them appear to be the biological children of the adoptive parents.
Those thought to be behind the network had roles ranging from intermediaries and sellers, to doctors and midwives. As in several cases so far investigated in mainland Spain, two nuns are suspected of involvement in the network, but only one is still alive.
Babies for 20 euros
The pregnant women targeted by the scheme were usually prostitutes, cleaners or from other humble backgrounds, and were promised that the baby would enjoy a better life with its adoptive parents. In some cases, the mothers were offered accommodation until the birth, at which point “they were sent on their way with a payment of 3,000 pesetas [less than 20 euros],” according to one of the heads of the investigation, which has been dubbed Operation Hidden by the authorities.
Preliminary investigations by the Civil Guard in Melilla have found that 14 babies were bought in the city between 1970 and 1980, for amounts that ranged from 1,200 to 6,000 euros.
The 31 people who are alleged to have been involved in the scheme — including a number of adoptive parents — will be facing charges of paternity fraud, false imprisonment and document fraud.
Twelve of these suspects have already passed away, while the remainder are of an advanced age.