Diego Armando Maradona Jr, son of the late Argentine football legend, is urging Italians to submit DNA to help the Argentinian government trace hundreds of children who were stolen and their parents murdered by the military junta that controlled the country four decades ago.
Maradona Jr is doing radio interviews in Italy and using his 400,000-strong social media following to broaden the search, which has already seen DNA testing programmes rolled out in Madrid and Rome.
The Argentine government believes dozens of children of the desaparecidos, the estimated 30,000 people kidnapped and murdered by the army during the dictatorship of the late 1970s and early 1980s, could have been taken to Italy after the fall of the junta.
During the dictatorship, pregnant women being kept prisoner were kept alive until they gave birth and then murdered. At least 500 babies were taken from their parents and given to childless military couples to raise as their own.
In March, the Argentine authorities and the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo movement, which has been searching for the stolen children since 1977, launched an international right to identity campaign in order to find the missing identities of more than 350 children.
“The children of those victims are now between 40 and 45 years old,” said Ana de la Paz Tito, Argentina’s consul general in Rome. “To date, 130 children have been found. But 350 people are still missing and they could be anywhere in the world.”
Maradona Jr said: “The tragedy of the desaparecidos is one of the darkest chapters in human history. I am very proud to be able to assist the Argentinian authorities and associations in this important initiative as a way to carry on my father’s battle alongside relatives of the victims.”
In 2010, the football star sent a letter to the Nobel prize committee, requesting that the peace prize be awarded to the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. In the letter, Maradona wrote that the Grandmothers leading the crusade to identify the children of desaparecidos deserved to be recognised for their “untiring, peaceful and courageous struggle to achieve the return of children who were kidnapped in the name of state terrorism”.
Maradona Jr was a result of the footballer’s extramarital affair with Neapolitan singer Cristiana Sinagra and still lives in Italy, although he obtained Argentinian citizenship last year.
For more than two decades Maradona refused to take a DNA test to establish whether Diego was his son, but he formally recognised him in 2016 and the two reconciled and were close in the footballer’s final years.