For two decades now, France has been engaging in an interesting process of recognition of its past wrong-doings. It has so far adopted four very different “laws of memory” (Lois Mémorielles), one creating an offense for those denying the Holocaust, another one officially recognizing the Armenian genocide of 1915, another recognizing that slavery and the trade of slaves that started in the 15th century were crimes against humanity and a final one expressing the gratitude of France to those who were repatriated from the ex-colonies upon decolonization. These laws are important in the sense that France as an entity pays respects to several sad episodes of the past.
France is now moving towards the recognition of one of its crimes, which is something that is not easy to do. Between 1963 and 1982, at least 1 630 children from the Island of La Réunion, a French Overseas Department since 1946 (and a Region since 2003), were moved by the authorities to the metropole. Indeed, certain departments in France, such as the Creuse, the Tarn, the Gers or the Oriental Pyrenees, were suffering of lack of population due to the rural flight (or exodus). The children were thus meant to repopulate these departments and to create a greater workforce in those areas. They could be or not abandoned by their parents, but still, they became “wards of the State”, meaning that they were placed under the “parental” responsibility of the French State.
This was a terrible event. Indeed, many times the authorities promised the children’s parents that they would return briefly or better qualified, which never happened. Many of them never returned, and others had to wait for years to be able to do it. They were always separated from any of their siblings, and many times didn’t even know that their siblings could live just some kilometers away from them.
Today, those who were victims of these practices consider themselves as deported people. Indeed, only in 2002 started the first complaints against the French State, and in particular against Michel Debré, the La Réunion member of Parliament who had allowed this to happen. Now all grown-up, the “children” accused France of forced deportation, kidnapping and roundup, some serious crimes.
After a long battle for making the public aware of their condition and for obtaining recognition, the “Children of the Creuse” (Enfants de la Creuse, as they are known), were recently able to convince politicians of the importance of their claim. Indeed, on the 18 of February 2014, the French National Assembly passed a resolution (which doesn’t have value of law) in which France affirms that it failed in its moral responsibility towards these children and demands the historic recognition of this event. This is far from making a consensus, since not all members of Parliament were willing to admit France’s misdeed. But it is already a step-forward for these now grown-up children.