She thought her mother gave her away. Like thousands of Chileans, she was taken
24 February 2024

María Hastings, and others adoptees like her, are reuniting with their biological families in Chile

María Hastings, 37, has always known she was adopted. But didn't know that her mother didn't give her up willingly. On Sunday she met her biological family for the first time in Santiago, Chile. She spoke to As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong.  6:27


When María Hastings landed at the airport in Santiago, Chile, on Sunday to meet her biological family for the first time, she said she felt "a little numb."

But that changed when she walked out of customs and saw her birth mother, sister and two nieces waiting there for her. 


Weeping, she wrapped her arms around her mother for the first time. 

"I think all of the emotions just came right out," Hastings, 37, told As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong.

"It's difficult to put into words what I'm still currently feeling. It's kind of been a whirlwind of emotions these past few days."

Hundreds of thousands of stolen babies

The Tampa, Fla., woman has always known she was adopted. But she didn't know that her mother didn't give her up willingly. 

She recently learned that she is one of thousands of Chileans who were stolen from their families as children and adopted internationally under false pretenses for profit. 

She tracked down her family with the help of Connecting Roots, one of several grassroots organizations now working to reunite Chileans with their birth families. 


For decades in Chile, poor, young and Indigenous women in vulnerable situations were targeted by a vast and systemic adoption scheme, according to Connecting Roots.

Some were tricked or coerced into signing away their custody rights. Others were simply told their babies had died after childbirth.

The babies were then adopted out to families in the U.S. and several other countries for hefty fees. The adopters were often misled about the babies' illegal origins. 

The trafficking network included foster homes, hospitals, hotels, social workers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, judges and diplomats "who participated in this criminal enterprise under the protection of the state," said Juan Luis Insulza, the vice-president of Connecting Roots.

The illegal adoptions — 20,000 of which are being investigated by Chilean justice officials and other social groups — extend back to the 1960s. But most happened during the reign of dictator Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990. 




Romina Cortés, Hastings' biological sister, says her mother — who didn't want to be named — travelled to Santiago from the countryside when she was young, and she didn't know how to read or write. 

She ended up pregnant and on the street, and was coerced into putting her baby up for adoption after she was born in 1987. 

"They forced her to sign a document that she didn't know what it was, since she was illiterate," Cortés said. "For some reason, because of the pain she was carrying, she didn't tell me before."


"As a parent myself, hearing the story, it broke my heart. I can't imagine that she's been holding onto this for 37 years," she said.

It also came as a surprise to her Florida family, she says, who believed the adoption was on the up-and-up.

"I feel like in some way or another, we were all taken advantage of," she said. 


Hastings learned about her origins after reading about similar stories in the news. She also reached out to Connecting Roots, which partners with an the online DNA database MyHeritageDNA to find people's families of origin. 

She was one of seven people on the plane to Santiago on Sunday to meet their families, thanks to the organization. 


Ben Frutcher of Watervliet, N.Y., was among them. He arrived with his adoptive father, and was greeted by seven biological siblings, and 14 nieces and nephews. 

"I'm going to need a lot more memory with all these new names," he joked as his family hugged and cried, wrapping him in a Chilean flag.

His mother died 23 years ago having never known her son. 

Sharing meals, making up for lost time

Hastings, meanwhile, says she's "trying not to dwell on the hardships" that her mother went through. 

"I'm trying to focus on the positive of that we are reconnected now and that we're trying to build on the time that we have," she said. 

Her family doesn't speak much English, and she doesn't speak much Spanish, but they are teaching each other.


She says she's especially enjoying the quiet, everyday moments.



"It's been really nice sharing meals with them — just being in the kitchen with my mom and sister, and watching them prepare food," she said.

"It's been an amazing experience so far. It's nothing that I could ever have imagined."