The government should issue a formal apology to single women who were ‘swept up’ in unwanted adoptions between the 1950s and 1970s, MPs and peers have said.
The Joint Human Rights Committee said it recognizes the “serious harm” done to mothers and their children who “still live with the legacy of suffering”.
An estimated 185,000 children were taken from single mothers and adopted between 1949 and 1976 in England and Wales.
Women and girls who became pregnant out of wedlock were considered to have brought shame upon themselves, and families and institutions such as schools and churches often sent mothers away from their homes so that their pregnancy could be concealed.
In a new report, the committee said the government “bears ultimate responsibility for the pain and suffering caused by public institutions and state employees who have drawn mothers into unwanted adoptions.”
The mothers had to endure a cruel double dose of shame. First, the shame of getting pregnant out of wedlock and second, when society’s attitude towards single mothers changed, they were judged for supposedly not caring about their babies and giving their babies away.
Committee chair and Labor MP Harriet Harman said the bond between mothers and babies had been “brutally severed” over the three decades and adoptions “should not have happened”.
She said: “The only ‘crime’ of the mothers was getting pregnant while unmarried. Their ‘sorrow’ was a lifetime of secrecy and pain.
“They were told they had ‘gave’ their baby up for adoption when they had done no such thing. Their child grew up being told that their mother had “given” them.
“The mothers had to endure a cruel double dose of shame. First, the shame of getting pregnant out of wedlock and second, when society’s attitude towards single mothers changed, they were judged for supposedly not caring about their babies and giving their babies away.
Ms Harman said the committee recognizes the ‘serious harm’ done to mothers and their children, adding: ‘It is time for the government to do the same and issue the apology it demands.
“For decades they have been reviled. Now they must be justified.
As part of the committee’s investigation, women shared personal testimonies of their experiences.
While we cannot undo the past, we have strengthened our laws and practices to be grounded in empathy…
One woman said being kicked out of her family to have a baby alone at the age of 15 had “scarred me for life”.
Another woman said she was persuaded by a social worker that “there was really no alternative but to have my baby adopted”.
The committee’s report calls for more support and specialist advice for those affected by these practices, and for the government to make it easier for those trying to find their mother or child.
It calls for better access to files, the linking of birth and adoption certificates to facilitate research and better sharing of medical information.
The government has said it will carefully review the committee’s findings.
A government spokeswoman said: “We have the deepest sympathy for all those affected by the historic forced adoption.
“While we cannot undo the past, we have strengthened our legislation and practices to be built on empathy, from NHS maternity services caring for vulnerable women and babies, to our transformative work the adoption process and the care system to help children settle into stable homes.
“There is help available for those affected by past adoption practices, including reuniting with their biological children or parents.”