In the past year, Stéphanie Murray has had a DNA test three times rather than one. The 41-year-old Quebecer adopted in Chile in 1980 would like to know more about her origins. And whether she too is one of the thousands of babies “stolen” during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Posted on February 21, 2021 at 6:00 a.m.
“What I have always known and which is the story that was told to my parents is that I was adopted because my mother was young, poor, and maybe had other children, so she couldn’t afford to feed me, and that’s why I was in the orphanage, ”says the woman from Quebec over the phone.
DNA testing did not give her the answers she hoped for. A result allowed her to come into contact with a man who could be her cousin. But he too had been adopted, in France, and hoped to trace his origins back through this DNA bank.
The birth of her daughter 10 years ago was a trigger for Stéphanie Murray. “When I had my daughter in my arms, for the first few seconds, I said to myself: I would never have been able to leave her,” she explains. She wanted to understand the reasons that led her mother to leave her at the orphanage.
Stéphanie Murray, Quebecer of Chilean originI have always searched, but without going deeper into it. I was still a little afraid of what I could find.
In 2014, local and international media began to highlight cases of “irregular adoptions”. Thousands of people, often raised abroad, have raised questions about their adoption. Chilean mothers also sought to find out what happened to their babies after giving birth when testimonies surfaced.
“The modus operandi was either to tell mothers that the babies were stillborn or to convince them that the best option for them was to hand their children over to ‘good families’ who would adopt them, with the use of persuasion strategies. or deception by “recruiters”, including religious figures, social workers and health professionals, who have played a key role, ”notes Chilean professor Irene Salvo Agoglia.
These women often came from poor backgrounds or rural areas, she says.
The researcher has been focusing on these “children of silence” for years. If the cases denounced in recent years mainly target adoptions that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, she specifies that there were 3000 denunciations for presumed irregular adoptions for the period extending from 1950 to 2000. Associations such as Chilean Adoptees Worldwide estimate the number of cases at nearly 20,000.
An investigation is still ongoing in Chile and has not led to any arrests. The Chilean Congress established an extraordinary commission on the issue in November 2018, which led to the publication of a report. This recommended in particular the establishment of a DNA bank to facilitate research. “None of the recommendations have been implemented,” says Ms. Salvo Agoglia.
For Alejandro Quezada, founder of the Chilean Adoptees Worldwide association, time is running out, since the people who could have been involved are old and could have many answers.
“Fortunately, a lot of information can be found in the documents,” explains Quezada from the Netherlands, whose organization helps adopted people find their families.
Alejandro Quezada, founder of the Chilean Adoptees Worldwide associationOn the other hand, what we see among others for Chileans adopted in Canada, is that cases come from a certain orphanage, the Casa nacional del niño, and that it is known to have had a very sophisticated system, if I may say so, to cut the link with the biological family.
Stéphanie Murray was in this orphanage when she was adopted.
Stéphanie Murray herself noticed inconsistencies in her documents. On her Chilean birth certificate, which she sent to La Presse, she is identified by her Quebec name, when she was 1 year old when her adoptive parents picked her up. Her date of birth is not the same, except for a month, on her passport and in the Chilean registers, where no information appears about her biological parents either.
The disparities do not prove that Ms. Murray was torn from her family of origin, but they make research particularly difficult. And her case is not unique.
When it is again possible to travel safely, she would like to return for the first time since birth to her home country, hoping to get more answers there. She has contacted Chilean investigators working on adoption cases to leave them her information, just in case.
The quest for her origins is rooted in her need to know where she came from, no matter what.
“It may as well be that I was legally adopted and my mother abandoned me – the question I would like to understand is why she would have abandoned me,” she says. If I was taken from my mother, I say to myself: this woman has been looking for me all her life. I would like to tell her that I am fine. That I have a good life. That I have never lacked for anything. I was an only child and my parents did everything, gave me everything in life. “
Chile is far from the only country where adoption cases have given rise to scandals. In Spain, families of dissidents denounced “theft of babies” under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Over the years, a reflection was initiated on intercountry adoption and led in particular to the Hague Convention in 1993. In Quebec, the Secretariat for International Adoption (SAI) was created in 1982 and now oversees all foreign adoptions for the province. At the time of Stéphanie Murray’s adoption, her parents had not done business with an agency and the LIT had not yet been set up.
The SAI ensures in particular the parentage and informed consent of the parents, said Josée-Anne Goupil, director of the SAI, in an interview. “The intercountry adoption solution is a solution that is said to be of last resort”, she recalls, implemented when a child cannot stay with his immediate or extended family and there is no long-term care possible in own country.
From 910 in 1998, international adoption in Quebec decreased to 142 in 2018. For this last year, there were almost as many requests to the SAI to find the biological history of an adopted person as there were adoptions in the foreign.
The number of requests to know about origins is also on the rise.
This growth is explained in particular by a legislative change adopted in 2017 on the communication of information surrounding adoptions, which places all the situations of Quebecers adopted abroad under the responsibility of the SAI, explains Ms. Goupil, but also by the age of adopted persons. “The internationally adopted population is aging and the need to regain one’s identity usually increases with age,” she says.