Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has apologised to up to 150,000 mostly unmarried mothers who were forced to give up their children for adoption during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
The historic national apology was delivered in front of more than 800 people, many of them in tears, in Parliament House in Canberra.
The apology was recommended a year ago by a committee in the Australian Parliament's upper house, the Senate, that investigated the impacts of the now discredited policies.
"We apologise," Ms Gillard said. "We acknowledge your loss and grief."
The women were either tricked or forced to sign adoption papers by medical and welfare professionals who believed it was in the best interest of the babies.
There were even cases of women being strapped to their hospital beds or sedated as their newborn children were taken away.
Gaye Kelly gave birth aged just 15 and was told if she did not sign adoption papers her new baby girl would end up in an orphanage.
She previously told Sky News: "I was crying and crying and crying and then the nurse came and said 'what's up with you?' - and I said 'I don't want to give my baby up for adoption, I want to keep my baby' - and she snapped at me: 'Girls like you don't keep their babies, stop being silly, pull yourself together' and she about faced and just left."
Gaye tracked down - and was eventually reunited with - her daughter but only after years of depression and heartache.
"This apology is extended in good faith and deep humility," Ms Gillard said.
"It will be a profound act of moral insight by a nation searching its conscience."
Ms Gillard said it took courage to say sorry.
"What we see in that mirror is deeply shameful and distressing," she said. "A story of suffering and unbearable loss."
In 2008 the then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the so-called stolen generation, thousands of aboriginal children removed from their parents over many decades.
Now Australia is saying sorry again, not only to mothers but to adoptees who were removed from their natural mothers.
Other countries, including the UK where similar adoptions were carried out, are considering taking a similar step.