El Salvador and its missing children: A small country with huge scars


During the 1979-1992 civil war in El Salvador, thousands of children were the victims of organised trafficking run by the army. It's estimated that around 30,000 infants were sent abroad for adoption – often without their parents' consent. This murky past was buried for the sake of amnesty; included in a peace agreement. To this day, hundreds of families are still searching for the truth about their origins. FRANCE 24's Laurence Cuvillier and Matthieu Comin report.


The Salvadoran Civil War began just over 40 years ago, lasted 12 years, and saw a series of atrocities, human rights violations and even the use of child soldiers, leaving up to 75,000 people dead. It's estimated that around 30,000 children were sent abroad for adoption – often without their parents' consent.

The conflict was sparked by deep inequalities in the country which had long been run by a very small but rich elite. As repression increased, with the use even of death squads, at the end of 1979 the Revolutionary Government Junta or JRG deposed the president and over the coming months and years expanded violence against its own people. The US, fearing another Communist revolution like in Nicaragua or Cuba, supported the junta first under Jimmy Carter, then Ronald Reagan.

Peasants take up arms

Junta forces carried out a scorched earth policy, trying to eliminate insurgency by eradicating its support base in the countryside. Across the country, though, resistance grew, with many peasants taking up arms: male, female, and child fighters were often trained in the jungle or mountains of El Salvador.

It wasn't until late 1989 that the guerrillas had real success taking control of large areas and even the poorer parts of the capital San Salvador. Then in 1991, UN-brokered peace talks resulted in a truce a year later. But what has become of those children sent abroad during the war? Hundreds of families are still searching for the truth. 

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