Stolen Lives

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For nearly six decades in Australia, thousands of new-born babies were removed forcibly and illegally (by government-backed authorities) from their natural mothers, the majority of whom were young and unmarried, and their babies placed on the adoption market. From the early 1920s until the mid-1970s an estimated 245,000 babies were adopted by couples desperate for their own family. Before the use of the pill and abortion became widespread, and benefits for unmarried mothers properly publicized, adoptions numbered approximately 4,000 a year. Now there are fewer than 300 a year involving new-born babies.

This violation of human rights was not confined to Australia. In the United Kingdom an estimated 750,000 babies were taken during the same period for similar reasons: a thriving adoption market, maintained by childless couples. In other countries - New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Hong Kong, South Africa, the figures also run into thousands.

The emotional repercussions for the natural mother and child were devastating. Many mothers suffered years of mental health problems. The children grew up with the stigma of feeling unwanted. These women were not told of their rights to, nor the existence of, national assistance or state housing. The majority were not offered counseling. Many now tell of being drugged while in hospital, of coercion, illegal 'consent to adopt' signatures being taken, physical restraint being used, and access to their babies refused immediately post-birth. Many were even told their baby was 'stillborn'.

A recent government inquiry in NSW, Australia, implemented by a group of campaigning natural mothers from the 1960s, when adoption was at its peak, confirmed that the above practices were common at the time. The mothers believe their babies were kidnapped. They describe what happened as a form of social engineering, implemented to save the government millions in unpaid benefits. It was also a way of reducing the numbers of illegitimate babies, who society saw as a social disease.

These birthmothers believe that even today, although numbers are significantly lower, in many cases of adoption, a degree of persuasion is often used, to convince young mothers adoption is the only answer. They would like to make sure this violation of a mother and child's rights - the unwanted breaking up of a natural and sacred bond - is eradicated completely from society. Freedom of choice is their motto.

The so-called Stolen White Baby Scandal in Australia is an example of how not to approach adoption.

Credits: Maree Giles

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