Skip to main content

Government responds to JCHR call for adoption apology

3 March 2023

The Government has provided its response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights report, The Violation of Family Life: Adoption of Children of Unmarried Women 1949–1976.

In the report, published in July 2022, the Joint Committee called on the Government to issue a formal apology to unmarried mothers who had their babies taken for adoption in the lat 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s. It found that the Government bore ultimate responsibility for the pain and suffering caused by public institutions and state employees that railroaded mothers into unwanted adoptions. It further called for more to be done to support those dealing with the life-long consequences of these adoptions, urging the Government to improve access to counselling and remove barriers to accessing adoption documents. 

Between 1949 and 1976, in England and Wales an estimated 185,000 children were taken from unmarried mothers and adopted. Women and girls who became pregnant outside of marriage during these decades were seen as having shamed themselves and their families. Babies were taken from their mothers who did not want to let them go.

Chair's comment

Reacting to the Government’s response, chair of the JCHR, Joanna Cherry said:

“It is disappointing that the Government has chosen not to issue a formal apology in recognition of the appalling treatment that unmarried mothers suffered during that time, and the lifelong consequences this had on them, on their children, now grown, and all those involved.

“However, we also recognise that in its response the Government have clearly and repeatedly acknowledged that what happened to unmarried mothers and their children was profoundly wrong. We are pleased that they have taken on board many of the recommendations of the report that will serve to make a material difference to how those affected deal with the legacy of these adoptions. Improving the availability of specialised counselling services, the sharing of medical information and removing administrative barriers. We will be following progress on these measures closely."

Harriet Harman's comment

Harriet Harman, previous chair of the JCHR, said:

“These adoptions would never happen now and should not have happened then. The unmarried mothers did nothing wrong but were themselves wronged.

“The UK Government, in its response to our report, has said it is sorry for the treatment of unmarried mothers, it has recognised how wrong these adoption practices were and it has said sorry on behalf of society for what happened to these women and children.

“This acknowledgement has been decades in coming, and for some it tragically comes too late. I hope that there is some comfort for all those affected by the forced adoption practices in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

“The treatment of these women stands as an important reminder that human rights should be protected for all, including those who at any particular time, are mistakenly regarded as transgressors.”

Image: Unsplash