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Family Reunification Experiences of the Disappeared Children of El Salvador

Published in: Human Rights Quarterly, v. 37, no. 2, May 2015, p. 492-510

Posted on RAND.org on July 16, 2015

by Elizabeth S. Barnert, Eric Stover, Gery W. Ryan, Paul J. Chung

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Established in 1994, Salvadoran Asociación Pro-Búsqueda de Niñas y Niños Desaparecidos (Association for the Search of Disappeared Children) has located 384 children, often with the aid of DNA evidence, of the more than 500 who went missing or were abducted during El Salvador's civil war. Families in other countries who were unaware of the forced separations adopted many of these children. Between 2005 and 2009, we conducted semi-structured interviews with twenty-six children, now young adults aged twenty-four to thirty-four years, who had been reunited with their biological families. We found that we could conceptually categorize the process of separation and reunification into six phases: pre-disappearance, disappearance, separation, searching, reunion, and reunification. While these young adults said that reunification was extremely important, they often found this stage psychologically challenging, given their new identities and their uncertainty about how they would reintegrate back if at all into their biological families. We call this process "ambiguous reunification."

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