During the 1976-1983 dictatorship, Argentina’s military rulers systematically stole babies born to political prisoners, most of whom were then killed. Some 30,000 people died or were disappeared for political reasons during the dictatorship, according to human rights groups.
The search for those children spearheaded by the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, led to breakthrough advancements in DNA identification.
The Grandmothers turned for help to U.S. geneticist Mary-Claire King, who in 1984 worked with Argentine colleagues to identify by genetic analysis the first confirmed stolen child. She later developed a system using mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from mothers, to identify individuals.
That led officials in the post-dictatorship era — with strong prodding from the Grandmothers — to pass a law formally creating Argentina’s National Genetics Bank, the first of its kind in the world, which is now celebrating its 30th anniversary.
The institution’s head, Mariana Herrera, noted that the institution was created by the government to solve crimes committed by the state itself. “There’s nowhere else where this has turned into a policy to repair human rights abuses,” she said.
The bank contains a database of blood samples collected from families searching for kidnapped children as well as adults who suspect they might have been stolen as infants.
To date, 122 cases of stolen children have been resolved — most by the Genetics Bank — but several hundred remain unaccounted for.
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