Jo Abi writes about Australia’s shameful past.
Imagine being 16. Imagine being pregnant. And imagine having your family and everyone you trust turn on you.
And then, imagine the absolute horror of having your newborn baby stolen from you, just because you happened to be young and unmarried.
It sounds unbelievable today – but this is exactly what happened to countless young Australian mums and their babies just a few decades ago.
“I’d lie in bed every night with my arms wrapped around my baby inside of me knowing that I would never hold him after birth. I’d feel his feet and hands through my own stomach as he moved around, knowing that I wasn’t ever going to feel them after he was born.”
That’s part of a statement given by one of the mums who ended up having her child forcibly removed from her and adopted out in the 1960s. And sadly, she wasn’t alone.
In the 1950s to the 1970s, women didn’t have too many options. Birth control was difficult to get, abortions were illegal and falling pregnant was seen as something shameful that needed to be hidden.
And so, around 150,000 babies were adopted out during this time. Just take a moment to let that massive number sink in – that’s 150,000 women and babies who had their lives destroyed in an instant.
Most girls were sent to homes similar to Stanton House in the TV show Love Child. I watched Love Child, sobbing, and yet the reality was much, much worse, with girls being drugged, abandoned and then having their signatures forged on adoption papers.
A federal inquiry into the practice heard stories of a father taking his pregnant daughter to a police station, punching her in the face in front of officers and demanding to know who the father was. Of pregnant girls being used as slave labour in homes and hospitals. Of malnutrition due to inadequate food, causing pregnant girls’ hair to fall out. And this all happened in Australia.
Considering women’s rights these days and how far they have come, it is hard to imagine what life was like then, and why this policy of forcible adoption was allowed to continue for so long. And the worst part was that it was the people these girls should have been able to trust the most who took their babies from them – parents, doctors, nurses, social workers, religious figures.
Thankfully, adoption laws have changed dramatically, and are now designed to protect mothers and babies. Now it is incredibly difficult to adopt a child in Australia.
Adoption rates have declined, especially since the introduction of welfare payments to single mothers, making it easier for them to keep their babies.We also have the benefit of legal and safe abortions, family planning services, access to child care and more flexible work options.
These days, adoption is a choice – however, it is an incredibly complicated one. For starters, adoption laws are regulated by the states and territory adoption agencies and other approved adoption agencies which means they aren’t always consistent.
The hit TV show Love Child is all about celebrating strong Aussie women. Check it out [post continues after video].
You need to become familiar with the regulations relevant to wherever you live in Australia. It is illegal in Australia to arrange private adoptions. And while overseas adoptions are allowed, they are incredibly difficult and take years and mountains of red tape.
Actress and adoption advocate Deborah Lee Furness considers herself incredibly lucky to have been able to adopt her two children. She is pushing for an overhaul of adoption laws in Australia to make adoption easier both locally and overseas.
Furness even managed to gain the support of Prime Minister Tony Abbott who announced he would work towards a policy to streamline adoption for Australians. Because the truth is there are many children in need, and many families without children who just want a child to love.
Furness recently spoke with Leigh Sales from the ABC about the current issues surrounding adoption and pointed to Australia’s ‘tainted history’ with forced adoptions and the stolen generation, which has caused the situation we are facing today.
She’s absolutely right. For Australia to move forward from its past, we need to get adoption right. Furness says “ethical adoption” is the answer.
“You have to have the tools to know how to parent a fragile child and you need to have a support system for the children that are going through this. Their journey is different too. So if you are to do ethical adoption, it’s a holistic piece,” she said.
We look forward to an Australia where every child in need gets a family, where the process is pro-active and supported and where the rights of all parents, children and adoptive families are respected and valued.
It can’t come soon enough.
What are your views on adoption?
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Uplifting and compelling, Love Child follows Australian women on the brink of a new generation, as they live and work through a time of unjust systems and the fight for liberation. Own it now on DVD.