WA government apologises to unwed mums

Angie Raphael
October 19, 2010 – 5:29PM

A woman who was handcuffed to a bed, drugged and forced to give up her newborn baby for adoption says an official apology has helped her regain her “selfhood”.

The West Australian government on Tuesday issued a public apology to women who had their babies taken from them by authorities from the 1940s to the 1980s because they were unwed.

WA is the first state or territory to issue such an apology.

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In 1962, Jan Kashin was in love with a Russian-Australian man who had proposed to her.

But her father labelled him a “Russian refugee” and said it was not proper for a fourth-generation Australian to marry him.

“It was the era of the wogs I’m afraid, so I thought if I fall pregnant then he’ll have to let me get married. But, of course, my father was a businessman and just said no,” she told reporters on Tuesday.

Ms Kashin was sent to a home in NSW where she gave birth prematurely to a baby boy in May 1963.

She was told that if she tried to escape the home, the police would arrest her.

“I was handcuffed to the bed because they knew I would do a runner,” she said.

“That was the most traumatic part … I thought I was going to die.”

Ms Kashin eventually moved on with her life and finally met her son in 1996, 33 years after he was adopted out.

But, she said, she remained upset over the “indignity” of being incarcerated and she continued to wear a bracelet on her right wrist to remember the injustice.

Ms Kashin said it meant “a great deal” to receive an apology from the state government.

“It’s like being given back your selfhood because adoption, forced adoption, any adoption, robs you of your selfhood, and it robs your child as well,” she said.

WA Health Minister Kim Hames said, on the steps of parliament, it was an important day to recognise mothers who were forced to adopt out their children.

“There was an enormous stigma about having a child out of wedlock and those mothers were strongly encouraged, ifnot coerced, into giving up their babies for adoption,” he said.

Dr Hames said the mothers were not allowed to bond with their children, were often heavily drugged with medication and had barriers placed between them and their babies.

“They weren’t told the sex, they certainly weren’t allowed to see or touch the baby,” he said.

“Many of these women have not gone on to have children. They have been so traumatised.”

Dr Hames said the apology was not about compensation for the mothers or a criticism of parents who adopted the children.

“What they (the mothers) say to me is not that they want compensation. It is that they want to have somebody recognise that what happened to them was wrong and, hopefully, will never ever happen again,” he said.

Premier Colin Barnett was to move a motion in parliament on Tuesday acknowledging that previous government policies were unsupportive of pregnant, unmarried women and failed to help them.