(CNN) -- Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard offered an apology Thursday to the mothers, children and families affected by forced adoptions.
An untold number of unwed women in Australia were forced to give up their children for adoption over decades during the 20th century.
"To you, the mothers -- who were betrayed by a system that gave you no choice and subjected you to manipulation, mistreatment and malpractice -- we apologize," said Gillard, speaking in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra.
Addressing those ripped from their families, she said: "To each of you who were adopted or removed, who were led to believe your mother had rejected you, and who were denied the opportunity to grow up with your family and community of origin, and to connect with your culture, we say sorry."
Gillard's comments came about a year after a Senate committee that investigated forced adoptions released its report, which included a recommendation for a national apology.
The report found that some mothers signed adoption papers while under the influence of medication. Others were not advised of government payments that may have been available to them.
"Most common of all was the bullying arrogance of a society that presumed to know what was best," Gillard said.
The report estimated there were 140,000 to 150,000 adoptions between 1951 and 1975, and as many as 250,000 from 1940 onward. It determined it was impossible to say exactly how many of those were forced.
Gillard pledged support for families that continue to be affected by such adoptions, committing $5 million Australian to improving access to specialist support and records tracing.
"We offer this apology in the hope that it will assist your healing and in order to shine a light on a dark period of our nation's history," she said.