Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon formally apologised for the country’s forced adoption practices which took place in the twentieth century, at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday. She also announced the launch of a new study, with the results to be published in the Summer, offering ways to improve support for people affected by the policy and to help reunite those impacted with their natural family.

The apology was welcomed by survivors and victims of the cruel and more than likely illegal policy, which enabled the state to take children away from their mothers without their consent, by claiming that being unmarried made them unfit to parent.

Wales and Ireland have previously apologised for their forced and illegal adoption policies. In January, Wales’ Deputy Minister for Social Services Julie Morgan made a personal apology to everyone affected by adoption practices in the twentieth century. Ireland’s Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman made an official apology in 2022 to the more than 20,000 people who had been illegally adopted in the country, a practice which involved forced adoption.

However, England’s government has repeatedly refused to apologise for its forced adoption policy within the same time period.

Instead, it has claimed that forced adoption practices in the twentieth century are completely separate to the forced adoption policy in place in Britain today, and that reforms have been made to ensure children are at the heart of every child welfare decision.

Despite this claim, the current system routinely discriminates against parents from ethnic and minority backgrounds or those living under the poverty line, leading to the illegal removal of their children, much in the same way it penalised unmarried pregnant women in the twentieth century.

Sturgeon begins her speech by saying, “The issuing of a formal apology is an action that governments reserve as a response to the worst injustices in our history. Without doubt, the adoption practices that prevailed in this country – for decades, during the twentieth century – fit that description.”

She then goes on to mention several mothers who lost their children, some of whom campaigned for the apology.

“In most cases, their mothers were young or unmarried.   They were stigmatised as a result.  And they were forced, or coerced, into the adoption process – by charities, churches, health professionals, or social services,” Sturgeon said.

“Some mothers suffered physical mistreatment or abuse.  Some were denied appropriate healthcare.  Up until the early 1970s, mothers in some cases were given Stilbestrol – a drug that dried up their breast milk, and which is potentially carcinogenic. Virtually all of the mothers were made to feel worthless,” Sturgeon added. “Consistently, mothers were lied to about the adoption process. They were given no information about what was happening.  When they did object, they were bullied or ignored.”

This treatment will ring true for many mothers currently going through the child protection system in England, as an estimated 90% of all adoption cases are involuntary, or forced by the UK government, which continues to sanction non-concensual adoption policies.

The speech is worth a read in full.

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