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Remembering the lost children of El Salvador's war

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The public apology was part of a 2011 sentencing by the Inter-American Human Rights Court related to government reparations for the disappearances of six children from three families between 1981 and 1985. Despite the apology, human rights organizations have critiqued President Funes’s government for failing to prosecute any government agents. A truth commission found agents were responsible for 85 percent of the human rights abuses during El Salvador’s civil war, according to a 1993 report commissioned by the United Nations.

'Everyone suffered'

During El Salvador’s civil war, which lasted from 1980 -1992, leftist guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front – which is now the country’s ruling party – took up arms against the US-backed Salvadoran troops and right-wing death squads. The military’s scorched-earth campaign meant it was common practice to eliminate entire towns, killing men, women, and children. In what is believed to have been an effort to invoke terror, it was common practice to “disappear” any surviving children, taking them to orphanages, or adopting them into military or foreign families. Sometimes the children were even forced into the Army.  

“We can’t forget that these children were innocent victims of a cruel war,” says Ester Alvarenga, general coordinator of Pro-Búsqueda, a nonprofit organization working to find children who were disappeared during the war. “The state has an obligation to investigate these cases and bring them to justice.”

With as many as 20 new cases of war-time child disappearances coming to light each year, Ms. Alvarenga estimates that close to 2,000 children may have been disappeared during the war.

So far, Pro-Búsqueda has found 380 of those missing children – 52 of whom had been killed, and many of whom had been adopted into foreign families, mostly in the United States.

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