Is Habiba a Hoax?

Bring Alma Home

You’ve likely heard about Habiba’s plight by now. She is a Moroccan mother living in Spain with her 15 month old daughter, Alma. Habiba was in an abusive relationship. Her partner is currently serving a ten month jail sentence, and Habiba sought help from the IMMF – Instituto Madrileño del Menor y la Familia (Madrilean Institute for the Minor and the Family). While there, her daughter Alma was taken away due to breastfeeding on demand, (see the “Report on Maternal behavior of Habiba with her daughter, Alma.”), co-sleeping, refusing to use an artificial pacifier, and giving the toddler food from her plate, rather than purees. Apparently the shelter has a psychiatric component, and mothers are given drugs to dry up their milk supply. It’s thought that breastfeeding is “damaging,” and babies who are weaned are easier to put up for adoption, if the need arises.

I’ll admit – it seems almost too hard to believe. That major news stations are not picking the story up only adds to the skepticism. It also adds to the tragedy. CNN.com has completely ignored the issue, and today’s feature articles are on cole slaw, the top ten most expensive housing markets, and Hugh Hefner’s fiance. I can’t tell you for sure why they think Playboy bunnies are more newsworthy than the oppression of an Attachment Parenting mother, but I have a pretty good guess: their bottom line.

Though the lack of coverage is frustrating, I’m encouraged by the lawyer and doctor on the case. Nacho de la Mata is a lawyer that has received distinctions for his impressive work in defending children’s right. If you’re fluent in Spanish, you can check out an article about him here. If you’re not, feel free to use Google translate.

The doctor evaluating Habiba is Dr Ibone Olza, a child psychiatrist at a hospital in Madrid, faculty professor, writer, researcher and an activist for women’s rights. She met Habiba at the hospital, researched the case and started the campaign to help Habiba after it was clear IMMF was not going to release Alma easily.

These two professionals have highly respected careers in Spain. To perpetuate a hoax would render them professionally obsolete. It doesn’t seem a risk any one person would be willing to take – never mind two.

So do we have the whole story? Likely not, but do we ever? Though there is talk (not confirmed) of her desire to reunite with her abusive partner, which certainly wouldn’t be in the best interest of Alma, the approach the government took was a gross violation of human rights. Habiba went to a government shelter to get help. What she got instead, was government control. Habiba is now on the streets, and has only seen Alma for a total of two hours in the fourteen days they’ve been apart.

Rallies and protests are happening all around the world today. Supporters are gathering to hand letters and petitions to their Spanish Consulate. For the sake of argument, if this is a hoax, it’s one I’d be proud to be duped by: protecting the rights of mothers and babies everywhere.

What do you think? Hoax or tragedy?

If you’re interested in more information about how to help, check out the Worldwide Mothers Unite: We Are All Habiba Facebook fan page.

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32 thoughts on “Is Habiba a Hoax?”

  1. thanks for sharing!! 🙂 I will be thinking of this today as i go to the spanish embassy in LA! also sharing on my FB! very well said!!! 🙂

  2. I like your point that if this is a hoax (which I doubt), at least it is a hoax that brings attention to an important topic that doesn’t get enough positive coverage.

  3. As a mother I am totally heartbroken by this story – every time I read it on different sites I feel a gut wrenching pain in my stomach – I can’t imagine the pain the mother and child are going through. BUT, the other part of me feels like it doesn’t add up – I can’t see how it could have unfolded in the way that is reported. Everyday I look for more information to satisfy my curiosity on how, in the first world this could happen. If you hear anything please keep us posted!

    1. These are my exact sentiments. I could not have said this better myself. My 1st reaction to this story was heart braking, I felt so badly for this mother and child. I couldn’t imagine anything like this happening to me or any one else for that matter. Then my next reaction immediately was something is not adding up. I can’t wait until the results come out and whatever the result I hope it’s positive.

    2. Then I guess you’ve never had to deal with CPS anywhere. They’re horrible all over the world, it seems. I can tell you horror stories (from friends, from family, even my own) that would make you sick to your stomach. This is how many governments operate. It’s awful.

  4. The story has been picked up by the Latin American media which tends to have a wider range of international coverage. It helps if you can read the Spanish sites and understand the news coverage. So far though this does not appear to be a hoax.

  5. I know Ibone, and there is nothing in her professional career that would point to her ever being involved in a hoax. I think because there is a language barrier many people just don’t realize what respected professionals these two figures are. No one would be crying hoax if Habiba was being helped by say, Henci Goer and Dr. Sears, kwim?

    1. I know and love Ibone too– there’s no way whatsoever she would be involved in anything shady. This is horrible violation of human rights. 😦

  6. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is real. As a mother (and an attachment parenting mother at that), I’m heartbroken by this mothers plight.

    However, I think we need to wake up in this country, and realize that this isn’t far off here. With such things as circumcision bans coming up, why shouldn’t extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping bans be next? What about forcing parents to vaccinate their kids against their wil? All of these things (in my mind) are STRICTLY the parents decision, yet our government keeps sneaking in. I doubt that in Spain it got this bad overnight. I pray that people in America wake up and begin to see that our government is trying to do the EXACT same thing.

    Sadly, the news media doesn’t give a flying flip about this sort of thing. Paris Hilton’s every move, or, as you said, the perfect Cole Slaw recipe are apparently much more enticing to the American public, and get “the ratings” better than a woman’s plight.

    I pray this poor mother gets to reunite with her sweet child. I cannot imagine the panic they are both going through. It literally breaks my heart.

    1. Shaina, you’re stealing my thunder! =) I was going to write another post on some of the very issues you bring up. That’s what The Other Baby Book is all about – empowering mothers to make THEIR OWN decisions, rather than just passively receiving parenting instructions without their unique child in mind.

    2. Shaina, that hurt my brain to read. Comparing the circumcision bans to likely cosleeping and breastfeeding bans? Really?! The first takes away a child’s autonomy; the ability to decide what to do with his own genitals as a consenting adult. The other two are ways to nurture and care for children. The fact that you would even see a parallel makes my head hit the desk rather hard. And vaccinations don’t maim a healthy functioning sexual organ (20,000 nerve endings; more than the female clit).

      It’s *not* about parents’ choice. Circumcision should be left up to the owner of the penis, period. His body, his choice. Good thing 80 percent of the world see that, and Americans are waking up. (68 percent left intact in 2009.)

      1. I agree with you to an extent, but not entirely. Basically I was with you up until you suggested that government -enforced vaccination was acceptable… when personally I find the concept quite terrifying. I’m not against vaccination, exactly, but the removal of the right to decide which needles our governments do or don’t stick in our children? Sends chills down my spine!

        Other than that I’m with you. I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with circumcision, but it should be down to PERSONAL choice (not the choice of parents! Our children are not our property!) or out of medical necessity. I look at it this way: there’s nothing wrong with an adult choosing to have their ears (or anything else) pierced… but I do have a pretty big problem with parents getting their toddlers’ ears pierced. I think it’s abhorrent! If they want piercings when they’re old enough to decide, that’s fine, but who are parents to decide to make alterations to their children’s bodies?

      2. Thank you, you said exactly what I was (am) feeling. Well, except for the part about vaccination, as I do believe it can be damaging and, thus, the decision should be up to the parents.

        How many of these people protested when they passed the ban on FGM? Seriously, that made it illegal to perform even a “ritual nick” on a girl’s genitalia, but you didn’t hear them saying that was a violation of parents’ rights. Why is the genital integrity of girls so much more important than that of boys?

  7. I have wondered about this too, given the lack of press coverage by major channels. If it IS true though, I hope to hear soon that the two are reunited.

  8. Its SO hard to believe that most mothers w/breastfed babies look skeptically at you when you ask them to do some action. Are we so cynical now? Even if “we are all Habiba” is all there is to it, we should be proud to help her or women like her who may not may not be her.

  9. Uh-oh, I’d better not go to Spain with my 16-month-old daughter. She still breast feeds, she stopped eating purees a long time ago (honestly, what 15 month old still eats purees instead of real food anyway?), and she still shares my bed at least part of the night or early morning. This is not only heartbreaking but absolutely ridiculous.

    1. The report also seemed to point to the authorities disdain that Habiba didn’t use her free time to prepare purees! Who wants to spend their free time cooking when you have the perfect food – and finger food – readily accessible!

      1. I am not the poster you are replying to but I am another mom who is not convinced. I am still giving the story the benefit of the doubt, because what if you didn’t believe and it turned out to be true, but what is bothering me is that the supposed advocates for Habiba have taken no ownership of the story at all. They haven’t put out any releases or statements, nor have they made themselves available to the newsmedia.

        The Habiba facebook pages was peppered with comments (from its admins) about how CNN and other American major news outlets would not cover the story because there was no money in it, but when I offered to help if they would give me contact information for them (I work with press for a living and can get the info to the right people) they said that the info is out there but not in English, and that it would be too resource intense to translate. They later said they have the info in English to a different poster. One of the organizers replied to my suggestion that they provide a press statement and contact info, stating that U.S. media coverage would not be helpful and that the cause did not wish to pursue this approach.

        What does not add up to me is that there is no official record of any of this happening. Ask for contact information for the advocates for Habiba and you get websites without contact information or generic email addresses. The official documentation they have circulated take the form of scanned docs on an anonymous photo site or google docs without any way to authenticate.

        If this is NOT a hoax, this is no way to run a campaign. It is absolutely absurd to assume CNN, USAToday, the NYTimes, NPR, ABC News and other major news outlets would ignore a story about a competent woman in Spain being deprived parental rights with no due process (or its Spanish equivalent) allegedly under false pretexts, and under allegations of: 1. racism 2. an erroneous understanding of when breastfeeding should end or 3. adoption profiteering – all of which have been alleged by the group behind the facebook page to be the reasons the child was taken. That would amount to an international kidnapping, if it’s true, about as sensational and “newsy” as it gets.

        There are dozens of blogs and a handful of Spanish language articles that seem to quote only third – hand sources “it is said that the IMMF has claimed that…” and not anyone directly. Who is Dr. Olza talking to, who is then carrying the message? If this is an official spokesperson, why not formalize it and make it verifiable?

        That is, to me, what does not add up about this. So if it is NOT a hoax, the organizers of this campaign and the advocates behind it need to reexamine the approach they are taking here. Dr. Olza (or the lawyer representing Habiba) must take ownership and release a statement, maybe even a video, so their identities and involvement with the case may be verified.

  10. It’s so complicated to respond to situations like this.

    On the one hand, I really feel hesitant to remind people to slow down and not pour a ton of energy (that is always in need somewhere!) into a sad story before it’s clear what is really going on – especially in child welfare, where there are significant unknowns that the public is not going have access to. Of course, no one wants to see a toddler separated from her mother, unless that child is objectively unsafe. Sometimes, that’s true even if a parent seems to be practicing attachment parenting.

    On the other, I am surprised at how many of the responses are really shocked at this – the level of support that breastfeeding gets in the child welfare area is (in general) abysmal here in Canada as well. If you consider the kind of training and resourcing that workers receive, it would actually be stunning if they were supportive of attachment parenting. Being on the adoptive parent side, I have been left with my jaw hanging open more than once.

    I think it’s important to leave the matter of the well-being of this particular child to her family and authorities as necessary under the watchful eyes of advocates – the outcome of a particular case can’t be decided by activists. Hopefully, regardless of the outcome for this mother and her baby, it will have also been an opportunity to bring about some change in policy (which activists ought to pursue with international support too).

  11. “Social services sources said Habiba was suffering psychological problems, was aggressive, hurled objects at other young mothers, would go weeks without bathing her child, left the baby on its own in potentially dangerous situations and took her out without proper clothes on. She also had a violent relationship with the child’s father, who had been sent to jail for attacking her but whom she still wanted to live with. She had recently turned down a bed at a centre for victims of domestic violence.” -Guardian International

    I’m inclined to think this is a lot more complicated than its being portrayed, and I am very suspicious that only edited documents are being released in the public sphere

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