An independent investigation is to examine the running of mother-and-baby homes and Magdalene launderies in Northern Ireland.
The announcement by the Stormont Executive follows a report by independent researchers into 10 homes and four launderies.
They were run by Catholic and Protestant church organisations.
Researchers said at least 10,640 women and young girls passed through the doors of the homes, and just over 3,500 others were residents of the launderies.
Many of the women claim they were emotionally abused and forced to give up their children for adoption.
In a joint statement this afternoon, Stormont's First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the Executive is committed to "a victim-centred independent investigation into these historical institutions".
"This will be co-designed with victims and survivors and will give them the opportunity to influence the aim of the investigation, how it should be conducted, who should participate in, who should chair it and how long it should take," they added.
In a message to women and children who were residents of the institutions, the statement said "your voices were silenced for so many years".
It added: "That was a significant wrong. As a society we must acknowledge this and do all we can to bring the truth of your experience into the open."
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One of those who met the researchers, who only wishes to be known as Adele, was sent to the Marianvale home in Newry after she became pregnant aged 17.
"I had absolutely no choice about it," she said.
While some of the nuns "were fine", she said others regularly subjected the young girls in the home to "snide remarks, cruel remarks that we were fallen women, we were bad girls and had to pay for our sins".
As a result of her treatment there, Adele said she suffered from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress throughout her life.
She insists that an "open and transparent" public inquiry is essential.
"It has to be victim and survivor led, the organisations who were involved need to be called to account," she said.
"The Executive really needs to step up and address these very, very difficult issues.
"From my point of view, we need to shine the bright light of truth and justice upon these dark corners, and upon our history. It is history, and we need to address it."
Speaking with victims and survivors about the Northern Mother and Baby research and next steps. It was a shameful chapter but now the silence is broken and their stories have rightfully begun to be told. pic.twitter.com/MT2DtXk142— Arlene Foster #WeWillMeetAgain (@DUPleader) January 26, 2021
Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Belfast legal firm Phoenix Law is representing around 40 survivors of the institutions.
She said the fact that the researchers could not compel the institutions to co-operate demonstrated the need for a public inquiry with the powers of subpoena.
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International, said he believes the report will "shed new light on the appalling extent and vast scale of the suffering experienced by generations of women and girls in these institutions".
"Amnesty has received allegations of arbitrary detention, forced labour, ill-treatment, and the removal and forced adoption of babies," he said.
"It's time for ministers to listen to the survivors - both the women and girls forced into the homes and the children born there."
Presbyterian Church apology
The head of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has apologised for its role in the mother-and-baby homes.
Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Right Rev Dr David Bruce said: "We deeply regret and unreservedly apologise for the damaging effects of institutional care, in which the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, or its members played a part."
In a statement the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said: "The Report sheds much needed light on a dark era in Northern Ireland's history and speaks more of the inhumanity shown to mothers and their babies and their wider families at that time, than the Christian care and compassion they deserved."
Rev Bruce said the facts uncovered in the newly published report "make for deeply uncomfortable reading".
He added: "The terrible cost to every mother and child who suffered in such institutions is upsetting for all of us in society.
"Those children who survived, who have now been given opportunity to share their stories, along with their mothers who they may never have known, are an ongoing and courageous witness to an era in which the state, society and the churches failed to show compassion to some of the most vulnerable in their care.
"The Report sheds much needed light on a dark era in Northern Ireland's history and speaks more of the inhumanity shown to mothers and their babies and their wider families at that time, than the Christian care and compassion they deserved.
"In any forthcoming inquiry, or process, we will certainly co-operate as far as we are able."
He added: "With regards to our own history, we will need to reflect on the findings of this report, and our own association with, for example, what became the Edgar Home in Belfast, which closed some 93 years ago."
The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd said in a statement that the report "reflects a time in our history when women did not receive the support they needed and deserved from family, society or the state. We provided services for women when no other option seemed to be available to them.
"As Judge Hart confirmed in a previous report, no-one who came, or was brought to us in need of help, was ever turned away," the order said.
The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd ran three St Mary's homes with adjacent Laundries in Derry, Belfast and Newry.
"We will need more time to review the contents of the report in detail and we will afford the independent investigation, announced this evening, our fullest co-operation," they said.
Additional reporting by PA