Robbing Cradles: Forced Adoption in Australia

By: Rebecca Bradley

“The Relationship of Mother and Child Remains Indelible and Indescribable…The Strongest Bond on Earth” –Theador Reik

What would you do if you never got to see your child? Not even for one second. You never got the chance to give it a name, you didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl. Well, this was the reality for many mothers in Australia.


Forced Adoption Policy

Between 1950 and 1975, Australia implemented a forced adoption policy. [1] During that time period, numerous single mothers were forced to give up their children so they could be adopted by married couples. [2] In February 2012, the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs conducted an investigation into those policies and created a report. [3] The committee found that during that time period, single mothers were forced to give up their children by doctors, nurses, social workers, and religious figures. [4] Not only were these women bullied and coerced into giving up their children, but they were not even permitted to see their children once they were born. [5] Many weren’t even allowed to know the gender of their baby. [6] While some of the women were actually under the influence of medication and unable to fully understand what was happening, others were told that giving up their baby to a married couple was in the ‘best interest of the child.’ [7] During the birth, the baby would be hidden from the mother and immediately after, the baby was taken to a separate room. [8] The mother never even got to hold her own child. [9] According to the Senate Report, it is “impossible to determine exactly how many forced adoptions took place.” [10]

Under the laws at that time, secrecy provisions were common in adoption legislation. [11] It was the policy that all ties would be severed between parent and child. [12] Even the right to name the child was transferred to the adoptive parents and a new birth certificate was issued, which listed the adoptive parents as the ‘natural’ parents. [13] In the 1960s, laws were passed that made consent to the adoption necessary. [14] If consent to adoption “was given under duress, without proper information about the mother’s rights, or signed before or within a certain period after the birth,” the adoption was illegal. [15] The birth mother also had a right to revoke consent. [16] Despite these laws, babies were taken from their mothers. [17]

In 2013, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard offered an apology to those affected by the forced adoptions. [18] She stated the Australian Parliament “takes responsibility and apologizes for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies.” [19] The Australian government also announced it was going to commit $11.5 million to assist those affected by the forced adoptions. [20]


Lessons to Be Learned

History has a lot to teach us. Mistakes such as these should never be made again by any country. Still today there is stigma associated with single mothers, especially those who have children out of wedlock. Although the government may not be taking children away through forced adoptions, single mothers feel the pressures associated with their decision to raise their children on their own. It is likely that many single mothers still think about what is best for their child and whether adoption is necessary. Moreover, even though adoption may not be forced per se, children are removed from their families on a daily basis by child services and family courts. We need to be mindful of the effects that judgments and stigma can have on others. Likewise, legislatures and governments should be cautious when creating policies.

Overall, adoption legislation needs to be carefully created to ensure the rights of birth parents, especially birth mothers are upheld. Governments should create special protections to ensure that an adoption is not being coerced in any way. Most importantly, these special protections need to actually be followed by everyone involved. Moreover, a lot of times it can be beneficial for the child to have contact with their birth parents even after the adoption. More open adoptions should be considered as an option. Hopefully with the apology of the Australian Prime Minister, a light will be shed on the issue so the same mistake is not made again by other entities.


[1] Overview of Forced Adoption Practices in Australia, National Archives of Australia (2017),

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Richard Shears,‘Babies Were Snatched Away Before Their Mothers Had Even Held Them’: Australian PM Finally Apologises for Brutal Adoption Policy Which Forced Single Mothers to Give Up Newborns to Married Couples, DailyMail (Mar. 21, 2013, 9:52 AM),

[19] Australia PM Gillard Sorry for ‘Shameful’ Forced Adoptions, BBC (Mar. 21, 2013),

[20] Forced Adoption Practices, Department of Social Services, Australian Government (Jan. 5, 2017, 3:35 PM),