Prime Minister Julia Gillard has issued an apology to people affected by Australia’s forced adoption policy between the 1950s and 1970s.
Tens of thousands of babies of unmarried, mostly teenage mothers, were thought to have been taken by the state and given to childless married couples.
Many women said they were coerced into signing away their children.
Speaking in front of hundreds of the victims, Ms Gillard said the "shameful" policy had created "a legacy of pain".
"Today, this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering," she said at Parliament House in the capital Canberra.
"We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children."
The prime minister said mothers had been denied knowledge of their rights, which meant they could not provide informed consent.
"You were given false assurances, you were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and in many cases illegal," Ms Gillard said.
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