Stolen generations aboriginal people Australia
Children of Aborigines and indigenous people from the Torres Strait Islands, north-eastern Australia, were forcibly removed from their houses on grounds of child protection from 1909 till 1970. Getty

Australia's former prime minister John Howard has rejected allegations of genocide against Aboriginal people in the country.

In an interview with the Seven network, Howard refused to apologise for the so-called "Stolen Generations" where an estimated 100,000 children were forcibly taken from their houses by the government between 1909 and 1970.

Howard, who was prime minister from 1996 to 2007, justified his decision by saying, "I just don't believe that the current generation should apologise for things done in earlier times.

"I didn't accept the conclusion of the Bringing Them Home report that genocide had been practised against the indigenous people," he also said, referring to the findings of a 1997 national probe by lawyer Ronald Wilson and barrister Michael Dodson into the removal of the children.

Why Were the Children Removed?

Children of Aborigines and indigenous people from the Torres Strait Islands, north-eastern Australia, were forcibly removed from their houses on the grounds of child protection.

The government issued a child removal policy in 1909, following reports that half-blood Aboriginal children were abandoned, as they were not accepted by full-blooded Aboriginal natives. According to critics, the children were subjected to infanticide.

Authorities were given permission to take infants and children from their houses to relocate them into institutions and merge them with the white population.

The exact number of children removed is unknown. However, estimates range from 20,000 to 100,000.

The Bringing Them Home report documented cases of children being forcibly removed from their houses or from hospitals, shortly after they were born. The removal involved "both systematic racial discrimination and genocide as defined by international law".

However, according to Peter Howson of the National Observer, the report is flawed and "while one could not rule out the possibility that some improper removals occurred pre-World War II, no substantive evidence has yet been adduced to establish that this occurred on any scale. And it has become clear that it did not occur post-World War II."

Genocide Allegations and Disputes

According to Wilson, the forced removals of children amounted to genocide, as it was feared the policy could cause the extinction of the Aborigines.

Emeritus Professor, Robert Manne, argued that the attempt to merge Aboriginal children with the whites in order to "breed out" Aborigines, echoed the views Hitler had about Jewish people. But he dismissed the genocide allegations, arguing that assimilation is not regarded as genocide in international law.

Australian Government's Apology

In 2008, the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an apology to the Aborigines.

"We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians," he said.

"We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering, and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

"To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

The apology did not contain any reference to the word "genocide".