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The shame is ours': Canada forced thousands of unwed mothers to give up babies after WWII

A senate committee in Canada has released a report detailing forced adoptions that occurred in the country for decades after World War II. (Gerry Cranham/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Canada's Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs has released a report that details what it refers to as a "disturbing chapter" in the country's history: For decades following World War II, thousands of unwed mothers were forced to surrender their newborns to be adopted.

What's that about?

Entitled "The Shame is Ours: Forced Adoptions of the Babies of Unmarried Mothers in Post-war Canada," the report says that in the years following the war, there was a social stigma against unmarried women having "illegitimate" children.

Oftentimes those who found themselves pregnant and single were sent away by their families to maternity homes to give birth — and the findings from the committee estimate that 95 percent of the babies born in such shelters were given up for adoption.

A number of women impacted by the forced-adoption practices that occurred from 1945 to the 1970's testified to the committee. During that time, roughly 600,000 births in Canada were deemed "illegitimate."

Some victims said that they were falsely told that their babies had been still-born. Others said they were coerced by social workers to sign adoptions papers. Many witnesses described the devastating loss they felt in losing their babies, with one reportedly being told to "get a puppy" by maternity home staff.

But Canada wasn't the only country who engaged in such practices after World War II. The report says that the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia also had similar policies during that time — with societies accepting the practice, believing that children would be better raised in traditional nuclear families.

What happens now?

The committee's recommendation is for the country of Canada to acknowledge and apologize for the damaging past policies — and to pay reparations to the victims. And there's a good chance they could get their way.

Last year, Canada settled a lawsuit with victims of what's referred to as the "Sixties Scoop," which was a program during the 1960's where indigenous children were forcibly taken from their parents and put up for adoption. As many as 30,000 people were affected by the Scoop, and the government agreed to pay $600 million to those impacted.

One last thing…
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