Ireland has assessed the harm done by its Catholic Church-run homes for unmarried mothers over most of the 20th century and attempted to fix responsibility. About 9,000 children died in the homes, twice the nation's infant mortality rate, according to a government report released Tuesday. Their mothers were subjected to physical and emotional abuse. "It appears that there was little kindness shown to them and this was particularly the case when they were giving birth," the report says. The death toll among children amounts to 15% of those who were born or lived in the 18 Irish institutions investigated, NBC reports. "We did this to ourselves, we treated women exceptionally badly," Prime Minister Micheál Martin said. "One hard truth in all of this, is that all of society was complicit in it." After the five-year investigation, and its almost 3,000-page report, Martin said Ireland must "face up to the full truth of our past."
The government helped fund the homes, which served as adoption agencies, sending many of the children to families in the US. About 57,000 children and 56,000 women lived in the homes in the years covered by the investigation, with the numbers peaking in the 1960s and early '70s. The last of the homes closed in 1998, per ABC. Before 1960, the report said, the homes did not try to save the lives of children of unmarried women. The report gave no one reason for the high mortality rate. An order that ran three of the homes issued a statement saying, "It is a matter of great sorrow to us that babies died while under our care." The report attributed principal responsibility for the way unmarried mothers were treated to their families. But the government and churches share blame, it said. "There is no evidence of public concern being expressed about conditions in mother and baby homes or about the appalling mortality among the children born in these homes," the report said, "even though many of the facts were in the public domain." (Some children were told their adoptive parents were their birth parents.)