Young victims of repression during Argentina's former military regime in a few years may be able to approach a computer in a Buenos Aires hospital with a heartbreaking question: "Who was my mother?"
The computer is the only way hundreds of children who disappeared during the 1976-83 military government's "dirty war" against opponents may be able to discover their true identities, if their adoptive parents do not tell them, pedriatrician Norberto Liwski said.Liwski told Reuters the computer at a genetic databank contains information obtained from blood tests on relatives of children who disappeared. It is almost 100 percent effective, he said.
According to a report drawn up by the present democratic government, about 9,000 people disappeared under military rule, all kidnapped from their homes or jobs.
At least 400 children were kidnapped with their parents or born in captivity, the human rights group Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo said.
The Grandmothers have over the past decade found 47 children who disappeared, the group's president, Isabel de Mariani, said.
Liwski said many would probably never be found.
Some children were registered as their own by couples who obtained them from the kidnappers. Others were adopted illegally, or in good faith by couples who did not know their true origin.
"Many of the kids who disappeared will at some point in the identity crisis of their adolescence want to know who they are," Liwski said.
They will all be able to approach the genetics databank, take a blood test and ask the computer who their legitimate parents were, or, if the parents have died, their grandparents and other relatives, he said.
Nearly all the disappeared children were born in the late 1970s, meaning they are just about to enter their teen years, Liwski added.
Argentina's trauma of the disappeared came to a new head two months ago with the case of Juliana, born in captivity in 1977 to parents who were kidnapped and never seen again.
Juliana, now 10, was adopted when she was a few weeks old by a couple who said they knew nothing at the time about the child's past but made investigations to find her relatives.
Her grandparents, found in August, demanded custody, sparking a legal tug-of-war that is still going on.
The Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights groups - whose members wear white scarves inscribed with the names of their kidnapped children - believe the children must be returned to their blood relatives in order to regain their true identities.
"We want an investigation into all adoptions since the (1976) military coup, because we fear a full stop could be decreed on this issue," said Nora de Cortinas, a founder of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.
Cortinas recalled a 1987 law limiting trials of military officers accused of human rights violations. The law exempted from trial officers deemed to have been following orders.
The trauma of the disappeared, however, does not only affect children who were kidnapped or born in detention centers, said Liwski, who has researched a so-called "forced abandonment syndrome."
"Between 6,000 and 7,000 Argentine children were direct witnesses of the kidnapping of their parents," he said.
The terrible manner in which the children lost their parents caused emotional problems such as backwardness in learning.
Most but not all the children have recovered through the care of their relatives, Liwski said.
The Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have for 11 years staged weekly marches in the downtown square opposite Government House, from which they took their name. They demand the return of their children and grandchildren and punishment for all those responsible.