Parenting is an essential aspect that is sometimes done under the watchful eyes of the community, including the government and relatives. As a result, some mothers are forced to relinquish their responsibilities if it is ascertained that they cannot manage to offer the requisite parental needs. Such cases have been reported in Australia and have left the public, as well as the victims with some questions regarding human dignity in the whole saga. Forced adoptions were mainly carried out because it was assumed that the young mother had no ability to care for their child thereby affecting their dignity. Human dignity can be considered in various perspectives depending on the situation. This paper will argue based on two perspectives that forced adoption in Australia was against human dignity.
Forced Adoptions in Australia
Forced adoptions, as it was practiced in Australia, refers to the act of forcefully taking babies of unmarried and youthful mothers unwillingly and giving them out for adoption. The practice involved various people connected to the process of childbirth, and they included doctors, nurses, midwives, and government officials from the ministry of registry. The practices were at the peak in the 1950s and 1970s and continued till early 2000s. Young unmarried mothers were judged as unfit for bearing children because of their financial positions and lack of moral standing in the society (El-Hage, Y. K. (2004). At the same time, children born out of wedlock underwent some psychological trauma because of the fact that they were products of immorality. As a way of saving the children from stigmatization, as well as saving mothers from the burden of child upbringing, forced adoption was carried by the government (Gray, 2013).
There are no official records of the number of babies adopted, but Cuthbert and Quartly (2012) state that about 250,000 were adopted. In 2010, Australia felt the need to apologize for allowing forced adoption practices to take place. Formal apologies were prepared and delivered by various states of Australia to mark the official end to the practice.
Perspectives on Human Dignity on Forced Adoption
The term “dignity” is used in legal, moral, political, and ethical discussions to imply that any being, including animals and human beings, have the right to accept ethical treatment and have the right to be valued (McCrudden, 2008). Human dignity is considered in four approaches denoted as 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B in a quadrant. IA and 1B denotes dignity humans have based on theior vituesof being human wheres 2A and 2B denotes human dignity that is acquired. Human dignity in the context of forced adoption can be applied to denote various perspectives of the issue. This section outlines two perspectives.
The First Perspective
This perspective focuses on the depiction of the abilities of both the foster and the real mother. When forced adoption is permitted, there is a distinction between the foster parent and the biological parent on the grounds of capacity. The biological mother, who in this case is young, unwedded, and relatively poor, is considered less capable of raising her own child, and thus the child is taken away from her. On the other hand, the married, mature, and affluent foster mother is considered fit, as well as capable of raising the child and thus the child is given to her. This practice was common in Australia during the era of forced adoption and thus it touches on the human dignity of the unwedded and young mothers. The capacity of the unwedded woman is undermined on the ground that she cannot provide the necessary care for her child.
The Moral and Historical Perspective on the Issue
In Australia, adoption laws came relatively late compared to other nations, and this is the reason why there were heightened cases of forced adoptions from 1950s up to the end of the 20th century. At the same time, the Australian society valued human dignity and interpreted it in the context of the morality, as well as the concept of “social wholeness.” In his case, a child was supposed to be raised in an environment that guarantees a bright future based on the present situation. In this case, a mother had to have the experience, legal standing, and material capacity in order to be considered fit to raise her child. Legal standing in this case, was lawful wedding (McCrudden, 2008).
Why Forced Rather Than Willful Adoption
The forceful adoptions were based on the social scientists’ theoretical models of adoptions. These frameworks stress on the bond between the mother and child. According to Swain (2011), these frameworks indicate that the bond between the mother cannot be broken in anyway, and thus it is in the best interest of both parties for the process to be done in secret. If the mother is aware of the adopting couple, she will try her best to reclaim her child after some time. Also, if the child realizes that her biological mother is alive somewhere, he or she might resolve to look for her (Kalny, 2009). To avoid such cases from taking place, the Australian government allowed forceful adoption, whereby the baby was taken away from the mother without her notice.
Why Human Dignity Was Compromised
From the analysis of this perspective, it can be seen that the process was carried out with good intention. However, this was done with a bad intention because the mother was not taken into consideration. In the first place, there is no scientific indication that a young unmarried mother has no ability to take care of her young one. The unmarried women were deprived of the dignity of being caring mothers. The Australian government judged the situation basing on the present material ability of the mother. However, they failed to realize that the future can always change for the best and thus the mother had the ability to take care of her child.
At the same time, the act of forcefully giving out the baby was more dehumanizing than allowing the mother to look after the baby in squalid conditions. A child is carried in the mother’s womb and is thus part of her. Forcefully adopting her is equivalent to taking part of her without her knowledge. This can be further interpreted to mean that such a woman has no say about her body and must thus be managed by someone else. This indicates that such women are not valued and thus lack of dignity. In addition, giving rich, mature women, the children of the poor, unmarried women is an indication of discrimination. The unmarried women are judged incapable of raising children, and this affects their dignity. Children adopted may be haunted in the future when they come to realize that their mothers were judged immoral and incapable of raising them. Although they may be grateful to the foster parent, no one can guarantee them love as their mother and this affects their dignity.
The Second Perspective
It can be argued that the apology issued out by the Australian government was meant to restore the dignity of women. These women experienced shame, as well as guilt after finding themselves guilty of being pregnant out of wedlock and were thus forced to give their babies for adoption leading to loss of dignity.
History of the Issue
In February 2008, Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, issued two apologies to children who had been stolen from their mothers during forced adoption. On June 15 2010, the Senate looked into the forced adoption issue critically and passed a bill recognizing the guilt of the nation. Thereafter, several other institutions came out to the public and issued an apology to the affected mothers and the children (Kalny, 2009).
How the Apology Was Used To Restore Dignity
Dignity refers to the rightful standing or position in the society. When it is lost, it means that the position of such a person has been tampered with and thus he or she cannot enjoy it (Vaišvila, 2009). In the case of forced adoption, the position of women had been stolen in the society. The government had seen them as incapable of raising their own children and thus thought that separation was the best option for them. In such case, the only way for restoring dignity was to return what had been snatched from them through apology.
The apology can be regarded as a means of restoring dignity because it opened the door for the affected party to openly express their anguish for the first time in the public. Swain (2011) documents cases, whereby both the adopted children and their biological mothers narrated their experiences openly. The narration indicates that both the adopted children and the mothers whose children were snatched were willing to let go of the issue and thus the apology was justified.
The apology issued by the federal government was conclusive. Apart from offering a verbal apology for the issue, the government offered counseling, and access to records of adoption as a way of reconnecting with the lost family members. Such form of apology is conclusive as it ensures that the past is repaired effectively. Nevertheless, it can be argued that the damage had already been done and thus the apology benefitted the future generation who would not have to go through the same issue.
Aspects of Human Dignity Could Be Jeopardized By Any Actions Arising From Those Perspectives
Human dignity as seen in the previous section has been considered as a multidimensional approach. When each perspective is considered in isolation, some dimensions of human dignity are affected. If considerations were to be given on perspective one, only dimension 1A and 2A of human dignity would be highlighted on the young unmarried mothers.
Dimension 1A indicates that human beings have dignity because of the fact that they belong to the species of human. In this case, one has no right to discriminate them or deny them what is rightfully theirs. The fact that the young unmarried women gave birth to children out of wedlock does not make them less equal to the mature wedded women when viewed in dimension 1A. As a result, they are supposed to be allowed to raise their children on their own without forced adoptions.
When considered in terms of 2A, it means that dignity can be acquired or lost through a sense of self worth. The victim under humiliation can only ascertain such sense of self worth. In the case study example, the Australian government allowed young unmarried women to be denied the right to raise their own children. In this case, the sense of self-worth as mothers capable of raising their own children was denied. By considering dignity as analyzed in perspective one, it means that sense of self worth was affected. However, it can be argued that one’s sense of self-worth can be mirrored in the norms in the community. If the community values certain aspect of one’s behaviors, then one’s sense of worth is preserved even in situation where the person has been subjected to unfair treatment. The norms prevailing in the Australian society at that time dictated that a woman should be lawfully wedded before engaging in sex. If the young women willingly gave themselves to men and became pregnant, then they robbed themselves of the sense of self-worth and thus should not blame the government on their predicament.
When analyzed based on aspect 1B, it means by possessing one or more aspects of human beings, one has dignity. The fact that one is human gives him or her ability to possess certain virtues associated with human beings (BARROZO, 2011). In the case study, the Australian women who got children before wedlock were denied the responsibilities of raising them because it was assumed that they had no ability to raise them. This is a violation of dignity to some point because these women are human beings and every human being has the ability to go an extra mile to ensure the welfare of the children is met. In this case, even if these mothers had no enough money, they had the ability to work hard to feed their children and raise them well.
When analyzed in dimension 2B, it means that dignity can be acquired or lost through human behaviors or morals. In the case study, the young unmarried women demonstrated that they were loose morally and thus their dignity was lost. They allowed themselves into relationships yet they knew that the society did not approve such immoral behaviors, and thus they lost their dignity.
Dignity is an essential aspect inherent in human beings. However, one can gain or lose it depending on the prevailing situation. This paper has analyzed dignity in the context of forced adoption in Australia. The analysis has considered two perspectives. In the first perspective, it has been realized that the dignity of young unmarried women was lost when the government snatched away their children and gave them to lawfully married women. In the second perspective, it has been realized that the government did its best to restore the lost dignity through public apology.
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