Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered a historic apology in Parliament today to thousands of unwed mothers who were forced to give up their babies for adoption over several decades.
More than 800 people, many of them in tears, heard the apology in the Great Hall of Parliament House and responded with a standing ovation.
"Today this parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies, which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering," Ms Gillard told the audience.
"We acknowledge the profound effects of these policies and practices on fathers and we recognise the hurt these actions caused to brothers and sisters, grandparents, partners and extended family members."
Ms Gillard committed £3.5 million to support services for affected families and to help biological families reunite.
A senate committee recommended an apology last year after investigating forced adoption.
Unwed mothers were pressured, deceived and threatened into giving up their babies from World War II until the early 1970s so they could be adopted by married couples, which was perceived to be in the children's best interests.
The senate committee started investigating the federal government's role in 2010 after the Western Australia state parliament apologised to mothers and children for the state's practices from the 1940s until the '80s.
Roman Catholic hospitals in Australia apologised in 2011 for forcing unmarried mothers to give up babies for adoption and urged state governments to accept financial responsibility.
Adoption in Australia is mostly controlled by state law, but the senate report found that the federal government had contributed to forced adoption by failing to provide unwed mothers with full welfare benefits to which a widow or deserted wife would have been entitled until 1973.
Among unwed mothers, adoption rates were as high as 60 per cent in the late '60s.
The committee could not estimate how many adoptions were forced but said they numbered in the thousands.
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