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Revisited

France's 'stolen children' make emotional return to native Reunion Island

REVISITED
REVISITED © FRANCE 24
By: Clovis CASALI Follow | Julien SAUVAGET
20 min

In this edition, we explore the tragic story of France's "stolen children". Between 1963 and 1982, more than 2,000 youngsters were taken from Reunion Island, in the Indian Ocean, to repopulate rural areas of mainland France. Some were orphans, but others had parents who signed release papers, not always understanding they would never see their children again. Our reporters followed three sisters on an emotional journey back to their native island in search of answers.

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Between 1963 and 1982, over 2,100 children from the French overseas territory of Reunion Island were taken to mainland France to repopulate rural areas such as the central Creuse region. Some of them were orphans, but others had parents who were deemed incapable of raising them. Authorities argued they would be getting a better education with the possibility of returning on school holidays to the island in the Indian Ocean. The French state did not fulfill its promises and decades later the national scandal of the "stolen children" broke.

Hundreds of the "stolen children" joined forces to form a support group and discuss their traumatic experience. They've complained of abusive foster families with some speaking of slavery, as they were forced to work in farms and badly treated. The group has also stressed the unusually high suicide rate and cases of depression among those picked for the resettlement scheme. 

Only 10 percent of the "stolen children" ever returned to Reunion Island. Our reporters Julien Sauvaget and Clovis Casali followed three sisters on a journey back to their native island in search of answers. They questioned relatives who witnessed their departure and they obtained their family file from the French administration. In this report, we also see where the "stolen children" lived when they arrived in mainland France and the suffering they endured.

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