Stolen

Recently I saw the documentary produced by Margo Harkin’s about child abuse perpetrated by church and state-run institutions. These institutions were called mother and baby homes. The documentary was reporting about these homes in Ireland during the 20th Century. The film is  called ‘Stolen’.  Thousands of women were used so that agencies could to take their babies away to be sold for adoption, something that today we would describe as trafficking.

In the opening scene we see a bleak picture of what looked like wasteland, and the only sounds were the squawking  of crows, which suggested somewhere cold and mysterious. It was Tuam in Galway, in the grounds of a mother and baby home called Bon Secours where, during an excavation, and before building houses, developers found the skeletons of 796 babies who had been buried there from the home. No one knew about these sinister events; they weren’t talked about and these bodies were concealed in secret.

Margo crafted this documentary with the expertise of a high court prosecutor. Her use of language is beautiful and well-crafted. It starts with the historical context, how women were treated in the past, women having their bodies controlled by patriarchal and political obsessions. The politicians allowed mother and baby homes and Magdalen Laundries to flourish. They were often run by nuns who were for the most part cold and sadistic towards the women. 

Margo interviewed many sources in the making of this documentary. As well as talking to legal scholars, journalists, historians and politicians, she had eye witness accounts from the women who were forced into these homes and had no idea what had  happened to their children. Did they survive to be adopted or did they die?  She traced some of the children who had been born there and had been told that their mother had died or didn’t want them. 

One in a hundred people were institutionalised. Along with these women having to endure losing their children, they were also used for experiments such as vaccine trials. Interspersed throughout the documentary were poems written by survivors. These were incredibly powerful and portrayed the impact of hopelessness and how women were and still feel powerless about what happened in the past. Interviews with these women are a testament to the trauma suffered and how they still experience the loss today, as they have done for many years.

On 12th January 2021 the final report of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes was published. This report was ordered by the Irish Government. It was updated on 22nd November 2021. These institutions were run by a range of religious charities, not all Catholic.

The last ‘mother and baby home’ closed in 1990; the last Magdalen laundry, a commercial venture, closed in 1984. At the end of the documentary Margo spoke and stated that, even though this report was very well investigated and many women had given interviews about their experiences, not one of those experiences was referred to in the report. So, even in 2021, women were still trying to be heard and to have their experiences acknowledged. Although in parts the documentary was painful to watch and the accounts of women’s experiences were harrowing, it really is a documentary well worth watching.


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