Thousands of infants died in Catholic church-run institutions in Ireland where women were sent to deliver babies in secret over a span of eight decades, according to the findings of a landmark investigation.
The study, which covers 18 Mother and Baby Homes over the period 1920s to 1990s, was commissioned by the government. For six years, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters probed the issue and heard testimony from survivors.
The report found that 9,000 children died in total. Some infants were found out to have been taken from their mothers and sent overseas to be adopted.
Around 57,000 children were born in the institutions, where it was found that one in seven or 15% didn’t survive.
“The high rate of infant mortality in Irish mother and baby homes is probably the most disquieting feature of these institutions,” the report said. “It is particularly disquieting that the high mortality rate was known to the authorities both local and national and was even described in public reports.”
Infants were also subjected to various vaccine trials without consent. Many of the remains of the infants were unceremoniously dumped by nuns who ran the institutions in mass graves.
The ordeal that women went through was also detailed through testimonies, where it was found how mothers, who labored without pain relief, were verbally abused and called “sinners” or “spawn of Satan.” They were also fed food “unfit for consumption” in terrible conditions, sometimes squatting on the floor.
In the early years, most women who were admitted were destitute mothers who didn’t have support and feared reprisal from their family. The unwed mothers were then looked down upon as a stain on Ireland's image as a devout Catholic nation.
The report gave recommendations to compensate the survivors, a move the government vowed it would do.
After the report's release, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin apologized and said it “lays bare the failure of the State” for a “profound generational wrong.”