France - La Réunion

France to debate Réunion island's stolen generation

Ericka Bareigts, Socialist MP for a Réunion constituency
Ericka Bareigts, Socialist MP for a Réunion constituency Facebook profile

France's parliament is to debate a bill denouncing the "forced migration" of more than 1,600 children from the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion to mainland France on Tuesday. The "stolen children" were brought to France between 1963 and 1982 in an attempt to stave off the depopulation of rural France.


In a French version of Australia's "stolen generation" - the forced adoption of aboriginal children - 1,615 children, aged between six months and 18 years old were taken from their parents, often without their "real consent" according to historians, and placed in orphanages or with families in the French countryside.

The scheme was dreamt up by Gaullist minister Michel Debré, who was an MP for Réunion, because the island had high unemployment and a rising birth rate while France was suffering a "rural exodus" that continues to this day.

The scandal was brought to light when one of them, Jean-Jacques Martial, wrote a memoir Une Enfance Volée (A Stolen Childhood) and in 2001, after discovering that he still had family in Réunion, sued the government for "kindapping and sequestration of minors, roundup and deportation", asking for a "symbolic" one billion euros.

Martial returned to Réunion in 2006 but will come to France for the debate.

It is "high time" to talk about the policy, the bill's sponsor Ericka Bareigts, a Socialist MP for a Réunion constituency, said on Sunday.

The French state should "at least recognise its moral responsibility", she added.

The motion does not propose compensation but seeks recognition of the children's experience, which it describes as "irreperable".

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