Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

'Before I die I want a little bit of justice': call for forced adoption inquiry and apology

Maggie Wilkinson with her daughters, Vivienne Cory-Wright, left, and Rebecca Wilkinson, and granddaughter Pippa Wright (rear). Photo / Mark Mitchell
Maggie Wilkinson with her daughters, Vivienne Cory-Wright, left, and Rebecca Wilkinson, and granddaughter Pippa Wright (rear). Photo / Mark Mitchell

Maggie Wilkinson was 20 when she gave birth at St Mary's home for unwed mothers in Auckland's Otahuhu.

Before the birth Wilkinson told staff at the home, run by the Anglican Church, that she wanted to keep her child.

Instead, her daughter was immediately taken. Wilkinson was escorted by the matron to a lawyer's office and ordered, she said, to sign adoption papers.

"I didn't have any advocacy. Just the matron, who made sure every child was taken from St Mary's. It was just, 'sign here'. And then I had to put my hand on the Bible and swear I would never try and find my child," said Wilkinson, now 72.

"Nobody ever gets over it. All the social workers said, 'Get on with your life - you'll get over this'.

"Well, there were some women [who could], as some soldiers get over shocking things in a war, but there were many who absolutely didn't.

It was a lie. We didn't get over it."

Wilkinson has made the trip to Wellington from her Waihi home and will this morning appear before Parliament's social services committee to ask MPs to open an inquiry into the forced adoption of babies born to unwed mothers from the late 1950s to the 1980s.

Her petition calling for that to happen and an acknowledgement of the "abuse, pain and suffering" caused by state-sanctioned forced adoption was signed by 100 people and presented to Parliament by Labour's deputy leader Jacinda Ardern.

In Australia, a Senate inquiry was held and then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard made a historic national apology in 2013 to women similarly affected.

The Senate committee report found unwed mothers were pressured, deceived and threatened to give up their babies, so they could be adopted by married couples.

"We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children," Gillard told more than 800 people, many of them in tears, who heard the apology at Parliament.

Recently the Oscar-nominated film Philomena, based on a book by journalist Martin Sixsmith, documented the forced adoption of babies in Ireland.

And Irish investigators this month said a mass grave with the remains of babies and children had been discovered at a former Catholic care home in Tuam, County Galway.

The Anglican Church in New Zealand has offered to open its books for any inquiry that might be held, but Justice Minister Amy Adams said no inquiry into past adoption practices was planned.

"This is not to deny or diminish any harm that those affected by past adoption practices may have experienced. However, the Government currently has a busy legislative programme focused on issues that affect large numbers of New Zealanders, such as family violence, privacy laws and trusts," Adams said.

"Also, given the modernisation of Child, Youth and Family that is underway, if a review of adoption laws were to occur, it would need to follow the completion of those reforms.

"It is acknowledged that some birth parents and their children have experienced difficulties as a result of past adoption practices. Society now has a better understanding of the impacts adoption can have on birth parents and adopted children."

Wilkinson has previously engaged lawyers to prove her daughter was adopted out coercively and illegally, a bid abandoned because vital records were missing.

She estimates there would be " hundreds and hundreds" of New Zealand women with similar experiences to hers.

Adoption is rife right through most families. We were used as the suppliers of the wanted child, either because of infertility or a desire to have someone else's child.
Maggie Wilkinson

At the age of 17 Wilkinson's daughter Vivienne tracked her down. Now 52, she will be at Parliament today, along with Wilkinson's daughter from her marriage, granddaughter and niece.

Despite being anxious about appearing at Parliament, Wilkinson is determined to be heard.

"Before I die I want a little bit of justice," she said. "My child was abducted from the birth room in St Mary's home in Otahuhu and we have just had shrugs as a response."

- NZ Herald

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