Apology 'owed' for forced adoptions

A NATIONAL apology and financial reparation is owed to parents and children who were victims of forced adoption policies, a Senate committee has found.

By Sue Dunlevy

March 1, 2012 / The Australian

The community affairs committee says the practice was wrong not just by today's standards but by the laws of the time.

The committee has called for governments and institutions involved in forced adoption from the 1940s to the 70s to set up grievance processes and provide redress where wrongdoing is established.

And it says the states should provide financial reparation schemes for the victims.

Committee member Claire Moore told the Senate that one mother had summed up the feelings of most of those who appeared before the inquiry. "I just want to make sure my child knows that I love him and that he knows I didn't give him away," the mother told the senators.

The report documents how many women were never allowed to see their babies, some were tied to the bed during labour and many were drugged. Those who resisted adopting out their child were told their boyfriend would be charged and jailed with carnal knowledge. In many cases, women were tricked into signing adoption forms. In other cases, they were separated from their children at birth without being able to hold them, and the adoption took place without their consent.

Many women were denied pain relief during labour and told their pain was punishment for their bad behaviour in becoming pregnant when they were not married, and they were drugged to dry up their breast milk.

About 150,000 such adoptions are believed to have taken place in the 1950s and 60s.

The report says adoption numbers in Australia peaked at 9798 in 1971, but last year there were just 412 adoptions.

In the past, the complaints of those women affected were dismissed because it was claimed the adoption practices could be excused as being in line with social mores at the time.

However, the report says what happened to these women was not only unethical, it was also against the laws of the time.

"It is time for governments and institutions involved to accept that such actions were wrong, not merely by today's values, but by the values and laws of the time," the report says.

It says the commonwealth government and every state government, and the hospitals and other institutions involved in the practice, should individually offer official apologies to the parents and children affected.

It calls for special counselling processes to be funded and wants the federal government to fund peer-support groups.

Lily Arthur, who co-ordinates the support group Origins, said the report shows Australia has "matured as a nation now that we can address the human rights abuses of our past".

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Coverage from 4 Corners

Given or Taken?

Over five decades thousands of women gave up their newborn children for adoption. While they were supposed to make their decision freely, many claim they were coerced, bullied and their children were effectively stolen.

By Geoff Thompson and Clay Hichens

February 23, 2012 / abc.net.au

It's now a cornerstone of social welfare policy that children should, if at all possible, stay with their birth parents, in particular their mother. Not so in years gone by. Right up to the 1970s, having a child out of wedlock was frowned upon and young women who fell pregnant were actively encouraged to give up their babies for adoption. Authorities argued this was done with good intentions, but now a powerful Senate Committee has heard evidence that tells a very different story.

It now seems many young, single mothers were never given the option of keeping their child. Unmarried mothers automatically had their hospital records marked ready for adoption - even before giving birth. There is evidence that some were sedated. Others were denied access to their babies as they were making crucial decisions about their future. As a result, these women have suffered terrible emotional distress throughout their lives.

This week reporter Geoff Thompson talks to some of the women who lost their children. Crucially, they reveal the truth about the way they were treated in the hours after they gave birth:

"(A nurse) started strapping up my right wrist. I was puzzled, I didn't know what she was doing, and then she secured me to the side of the bed... I became unconscious. And I don't know how long I was unconscious for, but when I eventually came to, my son was gone."

The program hears allegations that sedatives were used to help control young mothers and push them towards relinquishing their babies. As one person who's examined a variety of evidence says:

"I have no doubt that some illegal activity occurred, I have no doubt that women were subject to what nowadays... we would call abuse; that forged consents occurred."

The program also hears from the nurses and social workers of the time who claim that, while there might be evidence of wrong doing, most hospital staff acted in good faith:

"Most of them would say, 'I don't have to see my baby do I?' And you'd say 'No, you don't have to'... a young woman could not be forced to sign those (adoption) papers, could not be."

Over the past decade individual hospitals and the West Australian Government have offered an official apology to the women who lost their children. Now the Federal Government must decide if its policies contributed to the suffering. It also has to decide what can be done to help those involved and if a national apology is needed.

"Given or Taken?" Reported by Geoff Thompson and presented by Kerry O'Brien goes to air on Monday 27th February at 8.30 pm on ABC 1. It is replayed on Tuesday 28th February at 11.35 pm and can also be seen in ABC News 24 on Saturdays at 8.00 pm, on iview or at abc.net.au/4corners.

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