Soldiers stole children during El Salvador’s bloody civil war, which lasted 13 years and killed more than 75,000 people.
There have been at least 10 cases of soldiers stealing children uncovered so far by human rights group Probusqueda. Several thousand people are still missing and most parents still do not know what happened to their children.
An international court has called the kidnappings a “systematic pattern of forced disappearances,” reports USA Today.
Some of the soldiers then raised the children as their own. Others, however, sold them to illegal adoption networks. For one woman, Gregoria Contreras, the soldier who stole her raped her and gave her his surname.
The full scope of the problem is not known and the amount of confirmed abductions will likely rise should the country’s Defense Department publicize files from the time of the civil war.
The allegations also make El Salvador the second Latin American country proven to engage in child abductions during conflicts in the Cold War era. Contreras, along with the families of five other victims of soldiers who stole children were able to sue the government successfully in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The San Francisco Chronicle notes that they demanded the military release more information about the abductions. But the military still has not turned over the files they requested. The soldiers who were suspected of adopting stolen children have also refused DNA tests.
While the records have not been handed over, Probusqueda has received 921 reports of children who went missing during El Salvador’s civil war in the past 20 years. Many of those children were killed in combat, while others were orphaned when their parents were killed. The parents of 382 missing were identified through DNA tests.
But the majority of cases remain unsolved. Contreras’ case was somewhat solved when the court found that Army Private Miguel Angel Molina was to blame for her abduction. The ruling also said that the woman suffered acts of violence for almost 10 years, including rape, at the hands of Molina, who later committed suicide. Contreras stated:
“That soldier stole everything from me. He took away my parents, he took away my siblings, he took away my identity. I couldn’t live like a girl because he never gave me the love of a father and he was always abusing me.”
Most of the soldiers who stole children during El Salvador’s civil war will likely never be brought to justice, unless the military agrees to release more information.
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