Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sins of the Past

In a movement between the mid-1800s and the late 1960s, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were taken from their families and placed in institutions or with white families. Unlike the profit-driven motives of international adoptions that go bad, the goal of this child removal policy was driven by eugenics and the notion of racial purity. The idea was to culturally assimilate these children into white society. It is estimated that at least 100,000 children were taken from their families under this policy.

Last week, Bruce Trevorrow became the first person of Australia’s Stolen Generation to be awarded compensation by the Australian government for his removal. Mr. Trevorrow was awarded $447,000 (USD) in compensation on the basis that he had been falsely imprisoned when he was removed as an infant from his family in 1957.

Though his award is significant, Mr. Treverrow notes, “[Y]ou can’t put a value on what happened. You can’t put a dollar sign on that. Most of my life has been lost to me.”

Though this story does not involve international adoption, it does involve corruption. I was struck by the similarities between Mr. Trevorrow experience and some common denominators of unethical international adoptions:

  • His parents sought temporary care for their child who needed medical attention.

  • His admission papers painted a completely different story: that he was “neglected and malnourished.”

  • His mother’s appeals for his return were met with lies – although Mr. Treverrow had been taken to be raised in a white foster family, authorities told his mother that he needed to remain hospitalized.

  • Mr. Treverrow grew up racially isolated and was racially taunted. He felt he lost his cultural identity.

  • Reunion did not prove to be easy or a panacea.
Sins of the past cannot be erased, but I think acknowledgment goes a long way.


Stolen Generation Payout, The Age, August 2, 2007

The Agony of Australia’s Stolen Generation, BBC News, August 9, 2007

Historic Win for Member of the Stolen Generation, ABC Radio National, August 7, 2007

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