SVT uncovers corrupt world of adoption in Chile

Up to 2,000 Chilean children may have been stolen from their mothers and adopted in Sweden. According to Swedish reporter Lena Sundstrøm, there have been reports of similar cases in other countries, and she has been granted support to look into a possible Nordic collaboration on continued investigation of the matter.

When they adopted up to 2,000 Chilean children, mainly in the 1970s and 80s, Swedish adoptive parents thought they were doing a good deed. But the way the children were presented as poor, orphaned and with no future ahead turned out in many cases to be false.

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In reality, these adoptive parents were unwittingly involved in a crime.

On several occasions, children were removed from their mothers at birth. Those mothers, the adoption intermediaries and the adoptive parents became embroiled in a deception that they have lived with for up to 40 years.

SVT reporter Lena Sundstrøm is the driving force behind the documentary series De stulna barnen, produced as part of the Uppdrag Granskning show.

“The most common explanation given to the mothers was that their baby died during labour. In other cases, mothers were persuaded to send their babies to a children’s home, and then never saw their children again,” Lena Sundstrøm explains.

In this documentary, we meet several Chilean mothers whose children were put up for adoption without their consent. Foto: SVT

She refers to a parliamentary inquiry that has received a great deal of attention in Chile, as has the case as a whole. This investigation recognised the stolen children as victims of a crime against humanity –  a crime which took place in the time of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.

Different types of grief

For the mothers, children and adoptive parents involved, the disclosure has been shocking, but their reactions also differed greatly.

“Many of the mothers believed their babies were dead, while others lived in with the conviction their children were alive, and never gave up hope of finding them. This meant that they experienced their grief in very different ways”, explains Lena Sundstrøm.

After all, what do you do when you have lost an infant child so many years ago, and suddenly find out that you have a son, who is now a grown, 40 year-old man?

Two brothers who feature in the documentary reacted very differently to their adoption. “One brother has taken on a completely Swedish identity, while the other has held tightly to his Chilean roots, until they found their mother again.”

The brothers were divided by their different identities, and they have had a distant relationship and limited contact as adults. But after the story was unravelled, not only did they find their mother, they also rebuilt their mutual relationship, and today they get on really well as brothers.

Sweden receives the most adopted children

The exposé of the stolen children has led to criticism of the agency behind the adoptions for a lack of stringency in its methods.

The Swedish organisation Adoptionscentrum, which arranges international adoptions today as it did back then, has defended itself against criticism over the years by asserting that many mothers feel ashamed of having put their babies up for adoption – and so untruthfully claim that the children were stolen.

“But we were puzzled by how a group of mothers back then had already said that they believed their children had been stolen from them,” says Lena Sundstrøm.

In Sweden, the country that has received the most international adoptions per capita, the case has also been significant for domestic politics.

Criticisms centre on whether Adoptionscentrum sufficiently monitored the background circumstances of the adoptions.

And what is relevant is that when the case emerged, the president of the adoption centre was Ulf Kristersson. Today Ulf Kristersson is leader of The Moderates party and a potential candidate for Swedish Prime Minister. So far, he has not agreed to an interview.

“Reactions to the documentary series were quite muted,” says Lena Sundstrøm, who has received Nordvision funding to develop ideas for a follow-up, which she would gladly see happening as part of a Nordic collaboration.

Similar problems with China and India

She is quite convinced that the other Nordic countries are in a similar position.

Norway, Denmark and to some extent Finland have had an almost equivalent number of international adoptions. Presumably, they face the same issue.

Although it has now been revealed that many Chilean adoptions were not done willingly, the problem does not end there. Quite the reverse, in fact.

“A number of other countries such as China, India, Ethiopia and the Philippines have probably also sent children for adoption against their mothers’ wishes,” says Lena Sundstrøm, who previously worked with a Finnish and a Norwegian journalist on a documentary about surrogacy.

“I think it’s fantastic to work together with Nordic colleagues and in my opinion it’s the obvious decision to join forces on a case like this because we have so much in common in the Nordic countries,” says Lena Sundstrøm. She has received funding from the Nordvision Fund for exactly that purpose: looking into a Nordic collaboration on further investigation of this matter.

The series on the stolen children will air on SVT in the late summer of 2021. It consists of four episodes in Swedish and four English version episodes.

Internationella adoptioner, SVT

Project granted development support 15.000 EUR from the Nordvision Fund.