Between mourning and denial, the scandal of forced adoptions in England

InvestigationJudy, Veronica, Ann… These women are among the approximately 250,000 English women to have been separated from their babies born out of wedlock. These abandonments, carried out under intense pressure from institutions and society between the 1950s and 1980s, disrupted their lives and, often, those of their children. They are now demanding an apology from their country.

1967. That year, the Beatles sing All You Need Is Love and abortion has just been legalized in England and Wales. “It was the era of Swinging London, says Judy Baker, an energetic retiree. I was 18, I met my daughter’s father in Chelsea, in the heart of London, which was the place where we used to party. He was 30 years old, he was very attractive and I was naive. We started a regular sexual relationship. » Judy Baker starts taking the pill, available in the country since 1961. Too late, she is already pregnant. “I didn’t notice it right away, because I had irregular periods and my mother had never explained anything to me about how the female body works.. »

The girl is terrified, but she doesn’t want to have an abortion, and the child’s father is married. At the time, in this country which is entering full foot into modernity after the gray years of the post-war period, to be an “unmarried mother” – a pregnant woman without being married – is considered infamy. Worried, Judy Baker meets a social worker at the hospital, the National Health Service (NHS), a free public health system created just after the war. “She immediately said to me, ‘You know what the solution is, don’t you? It’s adoption.” »

A taboo subject

Like thousands of Britons, Judy Baker was confronted, barely out of adolescence, with a cruel but then very widespread system: forced adoption. Like in Australia, New Zealand, Canada or Ireland. Except that, in Great Britain, this process, which disappeared in the course of the 1980s, still remains a taboo subject, buried in the national memory.

Judy Baker at her home in Surrey, southern England, on May 27.

“An estimated 250,000 women, usually under the age of 24, have been placed in mother-child homes [des institutions où leur grossesse était cachée] between 1949 and 1976, says Gordon Harold, an adoption specialist at the University of Cambridge.. At least 500,000 babies were born there before being put up for adoption. And it is very likely that these figures are underestimated. » Gordon Harold was scientific adviser to the Authority responsible for adoptions in Ireland, a country whose government issued a public apology in 2021 to the Irish victims who had their infants confiscated from these homes.

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Britain is still a long way from this mea culpa approach. But an investigation by the UK Parliament’s Human Rights Committee was launched in December 2021. It explores adoption practices between the Adoption of Children Act 1949, a law clarifying the inheritance rights of adopted children and allowing families adopters to conceal their identity in adoption records, and the Adoption Act of 1976, establishing stricter control of adoption agencies. This commission is expected to report this summer, before Westminster closes for the summer.

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