News Headlines > Report lays bare suffering of child migrants

01 March 2018 | by James Roberts

Report lays bare suffering of child migrants

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The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse today published its report into UK child migration programmes

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse today published its report into child migration programmes implemented by the UK Government. The report contains a special section on the Catholic Church’s involvement in the programmes.

Over a period of many years before and after the Second World War, successive United Kingdom governments allowed children to be removed from their families, care homes and foster care in England and Wales to be sent to institutions or families abroad, without their parents. These child migrants were sent mainly to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Government departments, public authorities and charities participated in the programmes and were responsible, to varying degrees, for what subsequently happened to the children. Post-war, around 4,000 children were migrated, mostly to Australia.

Many testimonies to the inquiry described “care” regimes which included physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect, as well as sexual abuse, in the various settings to which they were sent. Some described constant hunger, medical neglect and poor education. A former child migrant told the inquiry his experiences at one school were “better described as torture than abuse”, saying he was locked in a place known as “the dungeon” without food or water for days. Another told of “backbreaking” work on the building of a new school building. Another spoke of the failure to give him medical attention, which resulted in the loss of an eye. In some places, there were persistent beatings of boys and girls, and one witness described how he had tried to kill himself at the age of 12.

The report describes one “particularly awful” incident, in which a group of 15 children, as a form of collective punishment, were forced to watch the sadistic killing of a pet horse loved by the children. The incident took place during what was known as a “special punishment day” at Clontarf, one of the institutions to which child migrants were sent, in Perth, Australia.

The agencies involved in “sending” children in the migration programmes were mostly voluntary organisations, with a small number being migrated by local authorities.

The report devotes a section to the overall role of the Catholic Church in the scheme. Pre-war, Catholic agencies migrated more than 10,000 children to Canada, and 115 to Australia. It then migrated an estimate of 958 children to Australia with 946 under the auspices of the Australian Catholic Immigration Committee from 1945-1956.

Fr Christopher Thomas, General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Southwark Howard Tripp, Mary Gandy, General Secretary of the Catholic Child Welfare Council, Dr Rosemary Keenan, Chief Executive of the Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster) and the Bishop of Leeds Marcus Stock, testified for the Church before the inquiry.

Catholic agencies involved in the programme were the Catholic Child Welfare Council (CCWC), which from 1929 was an umbrella body for diocesan societies involved in migration; the Catholic Council for British Overseas Settlement (CCBOS), which from 1939, had exclusive control and management of the emigration and settlement of all children and juveniles up to the age of 17; and the Federal Catholic Immigration Committee (FCIC), a sub-committee of the bishops’ conference in Australia, which, from 1947, became the Catholic organisation which had the formal child migration agreement with the UK Government.

The report criticises the Government for its child migration policy and recommends that it compensate all child migrants financially through a redress scheme. It also recommends that organisations involved in implementing the migration programmes offer apologies to child migrants, where they have failed to do so.

“Child migration was a deeply flawed government policy that was badly implemented by numerous organisations which sent children as young as five years old abroad,” said the chair of the inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay. “Successive British governments failed to ensure there were sufficient measures in place to protect children from all forms of abuse, including sexual abuse. The policy was allowed to continue despite evidence over many years showing that children were suffering.”

The Church in England and Wales issued a press statement today (1 March) in response to the report. “The Catholic Church in England and Wales notes the findings of the report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse into the child migration programmes and looks forward to continuing to work with and assist the Inquiry in its deliberations,” it said. “The Catholic Council, and the organisations it represents, stand wholeheartedly by the expressions of regret and the apologies that have already been made on behalf the Catholic Church in England and Wales.”

“The Church is fully committed to the safeguarding of all children and vulnerable adults and, following the Nolan and Cumberlege Reports, Dioceses and Religious Orders are committed to following nationally agreed guidelines and robust policies to promote safeguarding,” the statement added.

Bishop Stock, who is vice chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, apologised to all of those who were involved in the migration programmes as children. “If any former child migrant, not only those who have testified before this inquiry, would wish to meet with me privately I would welcome the opportunity to do so,” he said. “I appreciate that some may feel that these apologies and regrets are too little, too late, and for others they may not wish to have anything further to do with the Catholic Church. I would fully respect those views, but I remain open to listening and learning from them.

“So far as the inquiry is concerned, and as the Catholic Council has made clear on a number of occasions, the Catholic Council and the organisations it represents are committed to learning from the past and taking all appropriate steps in the future to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. This will include, of course, learning from the inquiry's conclusions on the issues identified,” Bishop Stock said.

The inquiry found that Catholic institutions in England and Wales have provided numerous support services to former child migrants from 1989 onwards, and that the Catholic Church responses “have been considerably better than those of some other organisations”.

Pic: (left to right) Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and IICSA Panel members Ivor Frank and Drusilla Sharpling, give evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee at Portcullis House, London. Picture by: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

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