Mothers who gave up children for adoption call for Govt apology

Mothers who gave up children for adoption call for Govt apology

Single mothers who were forced to give up their children in the baby boomer years are pushing for an overhaul of our adoption laws.

Many would also like to see an apology from the Government for the way they were treated.

Debra Harris was one of those mothers, and clearly remembers how she was treated when she gave her daughter up for adoption in 1971.

"It was very degrading and demoralising," she says. "It left me with a lot of feelings of lack of self-esteem, lack of self-worth, lack of self-respect."

She was a teenager and wasn't given the option of raising the baby herself.

"The social worker that was responsible for the adoption of my child out told me in a very stern voice with a wagging finger: 'If you are irresponsible enough Miss Harris to get pregnant, then what makes you think you're responsible enough to raise a child?'"

From the 1950s to the 1980s thousands of young women were forced to give up their children because of the huge social stigma attached to being a single mother.

Anne Else from Adoption Action says it was almost impossible for a young woman to take on the task of raising a child.

"There was no domestic purposes benefit," she says. "It was incredibly difficult to get money out of the fathers if they took them to court – they'd just deny it – and there was very little work that you could get and have a child on your own."

New Zealand's adoption laws haven't changed since 1955, and just last week the Human Rights Review Tribunal described the Adoption Act as discriminatory.

In 2013 the Australian government apologised to those affected by forced adoptions. Many affected mothers in New Zealand would look to see our Government follow suit.

"Absolutely there needs to be an apology," says Ms Harris. "That's where healing begins."

But Ms Else believes an apology could be meaningless without legal change to back it up.

"The real apology would come in overhauling this extremely outdated law."

Labour's justice spokesperson, Jacinda Ardern, backs that call and says many people have been damaged by forced adoptions.

"You cut off any links they had to their biological parents, and for a lot of families and children that did cause harm, and I do think there has to be some acknowledgement that that was the case," she says.

Justice Minister Amy Adams says she's asked officials to report back to her on the Tribunal's findings, and her office will respond once she's considered their advice.

As for Ms Harris, she now has a relationship with her adult daughter; she says they love each other, but it remains complicated.