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Column: Barbara Sumner

Barbara Sumner.

Dear Prime Minister
Your child is almost three months old. I was this age when I was taken from my mother because of her marital status.
Or, it could have been earlier.
Or later.
I don’t know because I have three possible birth dates, seven months apart and two birth certificates.
Can you imagine not knowing when you were born?
Can you imagine living under a lifetime gag order?
This is the ongoing impact of the 1955 Adoption Act and the 1985 Adult Adoption Information Act.
These Acts enable discrimination against me for the perceived moral crime of my mother. These Acts ensure that I am unable to view my files or know my birth date.
But, any social worker can see my files. Office workers at Oranga Tamariki and Births, Deaths and Marriages can view my files.
Many people can read all about me – but I can’t.
Try to imagine for a moment how that might feel.
The United Nations and the Human Rights Commission have condemned the Adoption Act 1955. It contravenes our Bill of Rights Act. In 2000 the Privacy Commissioner denounced the Act. His law reform recommendations were never followed up.
Even your own law amendment failed.
Canada and Australia have issued public apologies for the harms caused by forced adoption. In those countries and the UK forced adoption is on the public and legislative agenda.
Consider the children born today through reproductive technology such as surrogacy. They are also subject to this archaic act formed by the morality of the 1950s.
I am a mother of four and grandmother of six. I am a documentary filmmaker and writer. I have had enough of being a second-class citizen, of having my most basic right to identity violated.
My children and grandchildren are also entitled to their rightful heritage.
If New Zealand is a forward-thinking country, we must correct the misguided mistakes of the past. We must do this today.
I am going to court to have my files opened. Both my parents are gone. My mother was killed in a plane crash on her way to meet me when I was 23. My father died five years ago, at 92. I am the only person affected by these files. However, given the outdated moral imperatives of the Act, I will likely lose.
I have begun filming, I have hired a lawyer and a PR firm, and I will not give up until we see these laws abolished.
It is unconscionable that we still deny people their identities, whakapapa and history.
I will not stop until people like me have the same right to their identity that you and your child enjoy.
On the anniversary of 125 years of Women’s Suffrage, this issue is being ignored. Today, thousands of women whose children were taken and those people removed from their mothers are still treated with contempt and dismissal by your government.
The question is Prime Minister will you be the person to address these archaic legislations?

Most respectfully
Barbara Sumner
Cloud South Films

ref. Letter to Jacinda –

Barbara Sumner is an award-winning documentary producer turned writer of fiction for women. Her documentary This Way of Life was shortlisted for an Academy Award, she has won multiple awards for her films and an international journalism prize.

MIL Analysis+Reportage – EveningReport.NZ