A formal apology should be issued to 60,000 mothers who were victims of forced adoption in Scotland over the span of three decades to help them heal from the “cruel injustice”, Scottish Labour has said.
Ahead of her members’ business debate on historical forced adoption at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Monica Lennon called for the Scottish Government to say sorry to all those affected.
It is estimated that 60,000 mothers in Scotland were forced to give a baby up for adoption between the 1950s and 1980s because they were unmarried.
A leading psychologist, Dr Cynthia McVey, who spent decades supporting the victims of the forced adoption era, believes many of the children also suffered a lifetime of insecurity and anxiety, despite being loved and cared for by their adoptive parents.
In 2013 the Australian Government issued the world’s first Government apology for forced adoption, taking responsibility for the practice and issued a formal apology to those mothers. However, there has never been a formal apology issued in Scotland.
Ms Lennon’s party colleague Neil Bibby pressed Nicola Sturgeon on the issue during last week’s First Minister’s Questions, raising the case of Marion McMillan, a terminally ill victim of forced adoption who is campaigning for the Government to say sorry.
‘Women in Scotland deserve no less’
Ms Lennon said: “Our nation cannot undo the loss and pain these mothers have endured, however, an apology from the Scottish Government would help them to heal from this cruel injustice.
“An apology will come too late for many of the mothers, so the first minister must act quickly.
“Scottish women were instrumental in securing an apology from the Australian government in 2013, and access to specialist mental health support. Women in Scotland deserve no less for the trauma they have suffered.
“We must confront Scotland’s past and finally treat the victims of historical forced adoption with compassion. All they want is for the first minister to come to Parliament and say sorry.”
The UK Government has said it will hold an inquiry into the practice of forced adoption, which has been described as an abuse of human rights by Amnesty International, and other formal apologies have already been made in Canada and Ireland.
Nicola Sturgeon has promised to look into the issue and described what happened to campaigner Marion McMillan as “absolutely heartbreaking”.
Ms McMillan was a single, teenage mum from Stranraer when she was forced to hand over her baby son to a Salvation Army mother and baby home in 1967, where he was later given to a married couple.
She did not see him again for almost four decades, unaware that while she was trying to find him, he had spent years unsuccessfully searching for her.
Ms McMillan told the Sunday Post: “I can’t express how important an official apology is. It’s unimaginable something like this could happen in Scotland. But it did and the legacy of pain devastated many lives, especially those who never found each other.
“We were vulnerable young women who were bullied and told if we really loved our babies, we’d give them up so they could have a mummy and a daddy.
“I remember crying and telling them ‘but I’m his mummy’, and begging them not to take my son. I was told not to be silly. I’d get over it and I could always have other babies when I was married.
“I was lucky because I did meet my wonderful husband George and he has stood by me and supported my campaign. We had three lovely children together. But many women were so traumatised they never had another child.
“It’s heartbreaking many died without ever getting the chance to see how their child grew up or getting the opportunity to explain.”
A lifetime of trauma
Ms McMillan said every victim of forced adoption had “suffered a lifetime of trauma being forced to hand our babies over” and many adopted children were told their birth mother was dead or did not want them.
Children’s minister Clare Haughey will meet campaigners on June 21 and has promised to meet others, including Ms McMillan, after all parties at Holyrood supported an earlier motion by Ms Lennon calling for an official apology to be made.