Two of the chapters in my forthcoming book about the stigma of illegitimacy (which I’d like to call Relative Stangers, but we’ll see…) are about separation. They’re to do with illegitimate children growing up away from their birth parent(s). I finished the first one last week: that covered children in care and those adopted straight from a mother-and-baby home, or soon afterwards. It’s not a book about adoption, I have to stress, but I can’t ignore the issue. It played such a very important part in the lives of many illegitimate children and of the women who gave them birth. Some of the stories I’ve been told are astonishing, and so moving.
The second one is about child migration; about mother England disowning children twice over. The system of exporting lone young people to the British colonies, from the ages of 6 months to 18 years, ran from the 17th century to 1967. The Australian government issued an apology to former child migrants in 2009, and the British Secretary of State for Health did the same in 2010; they acknowledged their part in denying these vulnerable people their heritage, their history, their very identity. Their birth parents could suffer terribly, too, often knowing nothing at all about the colonies to which their children were being dispatched (‘Rhodesia? It’s somewhere the other side of Haywards Heath’) and fobbed off with empty promises of constant contact and prosperous lives.
Some children made good, and planted new family trees which flourish still. Ten percent of Ontarians, for example, are descended from British ‘Home Children’ or migrants. But others were destroyed. I feel ashamed.