NSW apologises for forced adoptions

Brendan Trembath reported this story

September 20, 2012 / abc.net.au

MARK COLVIN: The New South Wales Government has apologised for a long running policy which caused pain and grief for many people.

Until the 1970s, children were removed from unmarried mothers.

As the apology was delivered in the State Parliament, the public gallery was packed with reunited parents and children.

The Federal Government plans to apologise for forced adoptions next year.

Brendan Trembath prepared this report.

BARRY O'FARRELL: To the women who have carried the pain of loss, grief and separation throughout your lives, we say sorry.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The New South Wales Premier, Barry O'Farrell, apologises for thousands of forced adoptions in the state.

BARRY O'FARRELL: We apologise to the people forcibly adopted as children, for taking them from their mothers at the moment of birth.

You grew up never knowing the truth of your birth, or how much you were wanted or loved by your mothers, and for that we also say sorry.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: In the public gallery were parents and children who were separated in hospitals and homes for unwed mothers.

BARRY O'FARRELL: Mid last century, society didn't look kindly on the young, pregnant single woman.

Rather, these women usually faced the disappointment of their parents and the disapproval of their community. They were made to feel ashamed.

INTERJECTION: And they still are.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The New South Wales apology has been a long time coming. Forced adoptions ended in the 1970s.

A State Parliament inquiry 12 years ago called the practice unethical and unlawful.

PRU GOWARD: It is true that there were thousands of young women in New South Wales who were persuaded or manipulated to accept that adoption was in the best interest of their child.

But there are an unknown number for whom the persuasion became coercion.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The New South Wales Community Services Minister, Pru Goward. She says there are women who signed adoption papers while heavily sedated. Others had their signatures forged.

The Minister says some women were browbeaten for days.

PRU GOWARD: Women have told me they were called sluts, who ever since have felt like outcasts, and for this we are very sorry. For the secrets they hid, and continue to hide, we are sorry.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it was common for babies to be taken from unmarried mothers and adopted out.

DIANA: We lived in that society where, you know, it was a terrible thing to have a child out of wedlock.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Diana, a former midwife at Sydney's St George Hospital, speaking on ABC Local Radio.

DIANA: The Church had a lot to do with it, the families had a lot to do with it, the parents were often absolutely disgusted with their daughters.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: There are mixed reactions to the state's apology for forced adoptions.

TONIA: I only wish she was here to have heard it.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Tonia tells ABC Local Radio it would have meant a lot to her late mother.

TONIA: I just want to accept it on behalf of my mum, because she lived with – you know, she was stigmatised, humiliated, she lived with the guilt all of her life.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: But another caller, Bradley, says the apology won't repair the damage done. He was only reunited with his mother later in life.

BRADLEY: My mum told me what happened when she was in hospital. One day, when I was just born, she tried to escape from the hospital with me and the nurses dragged her back.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Ariel Marguin, who chairs the group Justice for Children, was in the parliament for the apology. She was one of the women who interjected.

ARIEL MARGUIN: Because the way they made it sound was it's all done and dusted really, and we're apologising for terrible things that happened in the past when we weren't enlightened.

Well we're not enlightened now, because these things are still happening.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: She says she wants an apology for current child protection policies.

ARIEL MARGUIN: The separation of children from their mothers - loving, caring mothers who've done them no harm - still goes on in family law in particular, but nobody talks about it.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: She hopes to change that.

MARK COLVIN: Brendan Trembath.


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