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Plea for inquiry into forced adoptions

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 14/03/2017 Karen Sweeney

File  © Getty File  An infertile couple with three adopted children decided in 1974 that they wanted a fourth - a boy, with tall birth parents and no "dark" blood.

Maria Hayward was, 18, pregnant to her steady boyfriend and was at the Catholic Home of Compassion where nun's decided her baby fitted the bill.

She was undermined, overpowered and coerced into adoption, her baby given to strangers despite her own mother's attempts to adopt the boy.

For years afterwards, Ms Hayward looked in every pram, at ever picture of a child the same age as her son, read every story about an adopted child wondering if it was him.

"I wondered what he might be like. The thought that he might not be loved terrified and haunted me," she said.

Ms Hayward is connected to many other women like her, victims of coerced adoptions, by what Maggie Wilkinson calls an "amazing cord".

"It's grief and understanding of what we've all been through," Ms Wilkinson said after presenting her petition to parliament's social services select committee on Wednesday.

The women want a government inquiry into what they call New Zealand's biggest shame.

In 1997 Parliament acknowledged "coercive" practices were carried out across New Zealand between the 1950s and 1980s but that's as far as things went.

The process has been longer than Ms Wilkinson expected, but she feels she's getting somewhere.

"[Labour deputy leader] Jacinda Ardern said 'right Maggie, lets do this' and I'll be forever grateful," she said.

Ms Wilkinson says it's not something she could have done alone.

"I have my family with me and when I look around at friends, other women and family I just feel strong."

But she's getting tired and desperately wants New Zealand to follow the lead of countries such as Australia, where an inquiry has already been held.

Four years ago, the Australian government apologised for an estimated 250,000 forced adoptions after an inquiry that travelled from state to state hearing from women and their children.

The UK is considering a similar inquiry.

Parliament's social services committee will now consider the petition, which has been backed by Wellington law firm Cooper Legal.

Lawyer Rebecca Hay said her firm had sought to hold people accountable representing women whose consent for adoption was not freely given, who were drugged during labour and had their babies taken.

To date not one case has been successful. The excuses, she said, included that it was just the way things were back then.

"A [government-led] inquiry is, for women like the ones you see before you, their only chance to have their stories heard and to have those stories acknowledged and for potentially some healing to finally take place," she said.

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