|Jane and Evelyn Robinson|
The salient features of adoption-Aussie style according to birth mother and author Evelyn Robinson (Adoption Separation: Then and Now) include the following:
- The government arranges all domestic adoptions.
- The government provides means-tested Parenting Payments to permanent residents who have custody of children.
- Mothers have fourteen days after birth before they may consent to adoption and 25 days to revoke consent. In practice consent may not be finalized for several months, during which time children may remain with their mothers or fathers or both. (US states generally allow consent soon after birth and a few allow consent before birth.)
- Fathers have a realistic opportunity to establish paternity and may obtain custody.
- Prospective adopters are selected only after the period for revoking consent has expired, thus preventing prospective adopters from attending the delivery and hovering at the hospital as in common in the US, directly or implicitly pressuring mothers to “perform a selfless act and gift them with her child.”
- Names of the adoptive parents may added to birth certificates rather than replacing the names of the first parents with the names of adoptive parents.
- Adoptees and their birth parents may obtain original birth certificates when the child turns 18.
These reforms stem from abuses inflicted on children, particularly Aboriginal children, in the name of social progress. When I was a first year law student at the University of Oregon in 1967, an Australian graduate student told me about her adopted brother, an Aborigine child. She explained that Aboriginal mothers often discarded their children at roadsides or in train stations. The fortunate ones were rescued by passersby who turned them over to the government which placed them with white families.
I am ashamed to admit that I had no trouble believing that Aboriginal women cared so little for their children even though I was grieving over the loss of my daughter, Megan, to adoption less than a year earlier.
Eventually the truth came out. Aboriginal children had not been abandoned; the Australian government had taken them forcibly from their families and placed with white families in an attempt to “westernize” them, a story poignantly told in the film, The Rabbit-Proof Fence.
(In the US at least a quarter of American Indian children were taken from their families by public and private agencies under the pretext of rescuing them from abuse and placed for adoption with white families. In response to the high number of children being removed from their homes, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 requiring agencies to place Indian children needing care with Indian families.)
In 2008 the Australian Federal Government apologized to the Aboriginal children ("the Stolen Generation") and their families. In the following year, it apologized to the "British Child Migrants" and the "Forgotten Australians." The British Child Migrants were children from poor families sent by the British government to Australia for adoption. Many were placed in Australian orphanages where they were forced to work as unpaid laborers and abused. The Forgotten Australians were children separated from family members under draconian child “protection” laws.
Robinson and other first mothers are pressing the Federal Government to apologize to single mothers who lost their children to adoption between 1965 and 1975 (the Australian “baby scoop era.” These children are sometimes referred to as the “white stolen generation.” The Western Australia Parliament issued an apology to mothers in 2010.
Australia continues to import children from abroad to meet the demand of would-be adopters, a practice based on the same ideology (some would call it hubris) that resulted in the wholesale removal of earlier generations of children. As we’ve written here, the demand for healthy infants in Australia, the US, and other western countries has resulted in kidnappings and exploitation of poor families. The latest in this sad saga is the reported kidnapping and sale for adoption of at least 16 Chinese babies claimed to have been born in violation of strict family planning rules.
Robinson concludes by asking for an end to intercountry adoption:
“As a caring, responsible nation, we have no justification for facilitating intercountry adoption, as we have a responsibility to learn from the mistakes of the past and not to repeat them. Apologies may appear to be empty and meaningless, if they are not followed by genuine change.
In the near future, the Australian Government will doubtless be apologising to the Intercountry Stolen Generation.”