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New inquiry: The right to family life: adoption of children of unmarried women 1949-1976

23 September 2021

The Joint Committee on Human Rights launches a new inquiry to understand the experiences of unmarried women whose children were adopted between 1949 and 1976.

The inquiry will examine whether adoption processes respected the human rights, as we understand them now, of the mothers and children who experienced them, as well as the lasting consequences on their lives. 

The inquiry will cover a range of practices that led to the children of unmarried mothers being adopted. The scope of the inquiry will specifically cover issues arising from cases which took place during the time period between the Adoption of Children Act 1949 and the Adoption Act 1976.

Chair's comments

Launching the inquiry, Committee Chair Harriet Harman QC MP said: 

"Everyone has the right to family life. The Joint Committee on Human Rights will look at whether the right to family life of young unmarried mothers and their children was respected in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. We have launched this inquiry to understand the realities of what the adoption process was like at that time and hear the experiences of those who went through it. 

The adoptions took place decades ago, but the pain and suffering remains today.” 

Terms of reference 

Send us your views

Submit written evidence to the inquiry

The Joint Committee on Human Rights invites submissions on the following questions by 28 October:

  • Was the right to family life of unmarried mothers and their children, as we understand it now, respected at the time;
  • How the experience of being adopted, or having a child who was adopted between 1949 and 1976 impacted on the family life of the unmarried mother, child and others;  
  • How social practices at the time contributed to unmarried women not being able to keep their babies and what if any, other reasons contributed to women feeling compelled to have their babies adopted; 
  • What, if any, information and support were provided to expectant mothers to help them make decisions or to enable them to keep their baby;  
  • The role played by legal consent of the parents in any adoption, how consent was given, what effect it had on children whose parents did not consent and how the standards of consent have changed since the 1950s; and 
  • How the lack of recognition of the impact of adoption practices between 1949 and 1976 has affected those whose child was adopted or who were adopted as a child during this time.

Further information

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