The unknown story of the thousands of children that France “stole”, sent to work in rural areas and suffered all kinds of abuse

Marlene Morin was 15 when she left Reunion Island for France, not knowing that she would have to wait almost 52 years to get her feet wet again in the Indian Ocean.

“I had been promised that I would go to school, that I would be able to return every year to see my sisters,” she says.

“But things were not like that,” he says, only to regret having grown up away from his family and eventually losing all contact with his past: “They took everything away from me, I have nothing left, absolutely nothing.”

And, as Morin, hundreds of babies in Reunion will claim the E French tate by a traumatic separation

At the beginning of the 60s, at the initiative of the deputy meeting Michel Debre, the French authorities began to move children from this French overseas territory to the metropolis. By that time the orphanages of the impoverished island were filled with children who were often not really orphans but had been brought there by parents who could not support them.

And the French authorities decided to solve two problems in one by relocating them in rural areas of the country that were running out of inhabitants so they could work the field.

Uprooted

Thus, between 1963 and 1982, at least 2,150 children in Reunion were uprooted and sent thousands of kilometers from their home island, often in controversial circumstances. Some, like Morin, was convinced by the promise of a better life that was not always fulfilled. But many were separated from their families by force or by deception.“Hundreds of illiterate parents signed verbal abandonment processes that they could not decipher,” reads a report in the newspaper Le Figaro published in 2016.

“They never saw their children again,” says the report.

Once in France, several of these children were adopted, but others were sent to hospices or religious institutions.And while meeting some began to denounce “child trafficking” in 1968, the matter only became of national interest from January 2002 when one of them sued the E French tate for “kidnapping, child abduction, assault, and deportation. “That of Jean-Jacques Martial was the first of a series of demands that eventually made the National Assembly recognize the “moral responsibility” of the French Republic and order an investigation of the subject. And on the eve of the publication of the findings of that investigation, a documentary explores the history of these children and their efforts to obtain redress and reconnect with their roots.

“A theft of children”

“They robbed my family: I lost my sister, I lost my two younger brothers when I was little, I did not have time to meet them,” he laments, in the documentary, one of those little ones.

“What they did was a robbery of children,” says another, while a third remembers being “stolen from my cradle when nothing else was three months old.”In addition, as the journalist, Katie Razzall explains in the documentary, once in France many of those children also suffered from racism, sexual abuse, and violence.

“Not everyone had bad experiences, but many suffered terribly,” he says.

Morin says that upon her arrival in the metropolis she received a limited education and was forced to work in the field.

“I said: ‘It can not be, we are small slaves, small employees!’ And if someone had asked me ‘Do you want us to return you to your island?’ I would have said yes, “he recalls“In the end,” says Morin, “the social worker decided to send me to a convent, in Bourges, which was a correctional facility run by nuns.”

Once there they locked her in a room of 1 x 2 meters, with only a small window, where they kept her for two weeks.

“When I left I did not recognize myself in the mirror,” he says.

Cheap labor

In the end, the education that had been promised to Morin did not go beyond an agricultural diploma, so the young woman from Reunion ended up working as a cashier in a supermarket and in a production line. He had already done something similar in the convent since the nuns had made her work by sticking boxes.

The men were sent to farms, I was a domestic employee. What did they want? Cheap labor?Marlene Morin

“I still get angry, it’s inadmissible to take advantage of the children like that,” he tells them.

“Men were sent to farms, I was a domestic worker, what did they want, cheap labor, it’s unfortunate for a country like France,” he adds.

And Morin is not the only one who hopes that once the investigation ordered by the Assembly in 2014 President Emmanuel Macron apologizes for what happened.Several associations group “stolen” children of Reunion, also known as “children of La Creuse” by the department of the center of France where many were sent. And, in addition to an apology, its members also demand financial compensation, although that issue is out of the hands of the commission ordered by the National Assembly, which must publish the results of its investigation this month.

“Unjustifiable”

“The assessment we have today is that you cannot justify a transfer of this kind, ” acknowledges, in any case, the French Minister for Overseas Territories, Dominique Sorain. And, according to the minister, the State is committed to trying to obtain the best possible knowledge of individual situations.

“Those people can know exactly what happened to them: if their parents were dead, if they abandoned them or if they were pressured in any way to abandon their children,” he explains.To help, the French government now covers travel costs so that exiles who so wish can return to Reunion every three years. And he also ordered that all documents relating to their cases be made available to them, so they can study them. Recently Morin seized the opportunity and returned to his native island for the first time in almost 52 years.

The trip allowed him to reconnect with the only one of his sisters who are still alive, Marie-Annick, and visit the grave of the other, Giselle, who had tried to persuade her not to go to France.“I would like to end my days here, my mother died here and I would like to re-encounter with mine,” he said after the meeting.

“I want to go back, to live here, because since I came back I’m better, in every way, in my head, in my body, in my heart, I’m better, I’ve revived.”

 

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