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Assembly debates ‘stolen children’

Bill denounces ‘forced migration’ of more than 1,600 children from Réunion between 1963 and 1982

FRANCE'S parliament was today due to debate a bill denouncing the "forced migration" of 1,615 children from the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion to mainland France.

Réunion MP Éricka Bareigts has introduced the bill in the National Assembly.

She said it was “high time” the Assembly discussed the dark period of French history and “at least recognise its moral responsibility”.

The policy was dreamt up by minister Michel Debré, who was an MP for Réunion, because the island had high unemployment and had a rising birth rate, at a time when France was suffering a "rural exodus".

Between 1963 and 1982, the ‘stolen children’, aged between six months and 18 years were taken from their parents on the island and placed in orphanages or with families in the French countryside.

According to historians, many of the children were taken without "real consent" from their parents.

The scandal came to light when one victim, Jean-Jacques Martial, wrote Une Enfance Volée (A Stolen Childhood) and in 2002 unsuccessfully sued the government for a "symbolic" €1bn.

In his book, Mr Martial revealed how, as a seven-year-old in 1966, he tried to hide from officials of the Directorate of Health and Social Affairs in sugar cane fields near his home.

But they found him and, claiming his father had ‘no sense of responsibility’, took him from his family.

He arrived at Orly airport in Paris, wearing shorts and flip flops, in the middle of November. He was first taken to live with farmers in Gueret, Creuse.

Then, four years later, he was uprooted again, and moved to Cotentin where, he wrote in the book, he was sexually abused.

Others who were also taken from Reunion reportedly committed suicide. Still more suffered with depression and mental illness, or turned to crime.

Ms Bareigts said: “No one knew of his horror before Jean-Jacques Martial brought his case.

“Today we must recognise that victims have a right to be remembered. That is a minimum.

“We must learn and know this story better, so we can turn the page.”

Mr Martial returned to Réunion in 2006, but has come back to France to hear the debate.

Photo:Elliott Brown

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