A new BBC documentary that aired Tuesday night exposed a baby trafficking scandal that was being conducted by the Catholic Church for over 50 years in Spain.
The documentary, entitled "This World: Spain's Stolen Babies," revealed that over the course of five decades, hundreds of thousands of babies had been sold for adoption by a ring of priests, nuns, nurses and doctors operating in Spanish hospitals during the dictatorship of General Franco.
The network operated by targeting primarily young, unwed mothers or mothers of a low income, who would be told shortly after giving birth that their child had died. If the mothers asked to see their child, officials would either show them a dead baby that had been kept frozen or simply tell them that they were not allowed to see the infant. The children would then be sold to devoutly religious adoptive parents that were financially better off and that the church believed would be more suitable to rear the child.
The adoptive couples never knew of the trafficking scheme and were often told that the child was willingly given up. Official documents were forged and the names of adoptive couples were placed on the birth certificates.
"The situation is incredibly sad for thousands of people," said the journalist who investigated the scandal, Katya Adler, according to Dailymail.co.uk.
"There are men and women across Spain whose lives have been turned upside-down by discovering the people they thought were their parents actually bought them for cash. There are also many mothers who have maintained for years that their babies did not die – and were labelled "hysterical" – but are now discovering that their child has probably been alive and brought up by somebody else all this time."
The Spanish judicial system is now investigating cases of child theft that took place between the 1960s and the 1990s.
"This is a really serious matter when it affects something as essential as your own identity, your right to know your origins," said member of the Spanish justice ministry Angel Nunez in the documentary.
"These are fundamental rights."
Spain's attorney general has charged regional prosecutors with investigating more than 900 individual cases.
"I think 35 years have passed since the death of the dictator," said Nunez.
"We have a professional and independent justice system. Evidently we still have problems from the past, social problems, but also personal and even cultural problems, and the policy of this government has been one of trying to solve them."