Sunday, 15 November 2009

British and Australian Governments to apologise for Child Migrants Scheme

Gordon Brown, the present British Prime Minister, is to issue a formal apology in the new year to all the surviving children who were sent overseas from the United Kingdom to Canada and Australia under the Child Migrant Scheme, which ended forty years ago. Many poor children who ended up being sent overseas were brutally abused and sent to work as virtual slave labour on farms or incarcerated in institutions.

In a particularly shocking testimony, one migrant told a a British parliamentary committee, in the late 1990s, that he had been subjected to an ordeal at the hands of a group of priests in Tardun, Western Australia, who competed between themselves to see who could rape him 100 times first. Australia's Roman Catholic church issued an apology in 2001, and tomorrow (Monday), the Australian Prime Minister will also issue a statement to those so poorly treated in the country, and also to half a million 'Forgotten Australians' held in orphanages between 1930 and 1970.

Many of the British children deported through the scheme - including 1700 who went to Canada, New Zealand and Rhodesia, and 7000 to Australia, were told their parents in Britain were dead - when they weren't - whilst some parents in Britain did not know that their children had been sent overseas. It remains a national shame. In a report on the BBC news website, it is reported that "in a letter to the chairman of the health select committee this weekend, Mr Brown said "the time is now right" for the UK to apologise for the actions of previous governments". The time was never wrong.

There has been a tendency in recent years for the British Government to issue apologies left, right and centre for everything that could potentially involve compensation payments, from the Irish Famine to the mistreatment of the Gurkha veterans, who the Government was happy to let bleed for us, but not to let live with us. Society is increasingly becoming cheap and devalued, and more concerned with lawyers and compensation culture than in the difference between right and wrong. The current Government was not responsible for the shameful policy and subsequent abandonment of her own citizens through the migrant scheme, but as the current national Government it speaks for the nation, so let's hope this is not some shallow PR exercise, but meaningful, and accompanied with whatever support the survivors may need.

There is more on the children's ordeals in a BBC special report at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8360150.stm. Reaction from the Child Migrants Trust, established in 1987, is available here.

Chris

www.ScotlandsGreatestStory.co.uk
Professional genealogical problem solving and research
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5 comments:

JDR said...

In Canada they are known as Home Children. Over 100,000 children came to Canada between 1869 and prior to the Second World War. A few were sent in the late 1940s. There were many cases of abuse, especially in the early years when inspection was lax or nonexistent. There were also many cases where the children were welcomed into a family home in Canada. They were better off than they would have been with an abusive natural family in the UK.

Chris Paton said...

I don't think I can agree with the last sentence JDR. Some may well have been better off, but the person I quoted as having testified before British MPs to being the victim of a 'rape competition' by Catholic priests in Australia may well have a different perspective on whether he was better off. He cleary was not alone.

Chris

hummer said...

Oh my, I must live in a sheltered world in Texas. I did not know these things. I would have opened my doors. Thanks for sharing.

JDR said...

A case I know of is a boy whose father had died. His mother was imprisoned for having mistreated the children. That was quite an achievement in the 1890s. I was told the family "got down on their knees to thank Dr Barnardo for having emigrated them to Canada." Anecdotal evidence on either side shouldn't be used to characterize the whole movement.

Chris Paton said...

I agree JDR, hence why I stated that some may well have been better off. I was responding to your point that "They were better off than they would have been with an abusive natural family in the UK". I think that is equally guilty of being a generalisation, as in many well documented cases they were not. Where it worked - and Canada may well have an exemplary record on this - it will have undoubtedly improved the lives of those affected. Where it did not, an apology is clearly required - at the very least an apology is required. Clearly both the Australian and British Governments believe so, and there have been several reported cases over the last week in the media showing the need for one as being very real.

Chris