‘Stolen children’ seek justice from France
(GIN) — The week of Feb. 17, the French national assembly addressed the country’s role in the “forced migration” of children from the island of Reunion from the 1960s to the 1980s. The policy was designed to provide French farmers with cheap workers, servants and maids.
From 1963 to 1982 a total of 1,615 children were forcibly removed from the island just west of Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa. The motion to be debated does not provide for compensation, but denounces the “forced migration” of the children from Réunion Island and describes their fate as “irreparable.”
“They took babies who were only six months old,” said Ericka Bareigts, one of the territory’s deputies who is behind the initiative. Poor and illiterate families were informed that their children would be sent to France, “and of course they imagined Paris and the Eiffel tower,” she said. “They were promised a home, schooling, and told they would succeed. The families were told the children would return for the holidays. But it was all a lie.”
Jean-Jacques Martial said he was 6 years old when he arrived at Orly airport in Paris one November morning wearing flip-flops and shorts. He had been removed from his grandmother’s care. Martial, now 55, was raised by an elderly farmer and his wife, the Guardian newspaper reported. He wrote of his experience in a memoir, “Une Enfance Volée (Stolen Childhood).”
His effort to sue the government in 2002 for “kidnapping and sequestration of minors, roundup and deportation,” brought the scandal to light, although the suit failed for exceeding the statute of limitations.
Reunion continues to be an “overseas department” of France with a population of 840,000 citizens of African, Chinese, Malay and Indian descent. The name commemorates the union of revolutionaries from Marseille with the National Guard in Paris, which took place Aug. 10, 1792.