Thousands of Australians who suffered abuse after arriving as child migrants from Britain should be compensated by the UK government, an inquiry has found.
Britain’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published its report on the Child Migration Programme after hearings in 2017 at which 48 witnesses appeared and more than 30,000 pages of documents were obtained.
The report, released on Thursday night (AEDT), recommended financial compensation to the approximately 2000 migrants still alive today.
A total of 7000 children were sent to Australia, more than half of them in the years following the Second World War. They were sent to farm schools and other institutions run by charity or church groups in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia until 1970.
Australia’s royal commission found evidence of sexual and other forms of abuse at 16 of the 39 Australian institutions the child migrants were sent to. Seventeen feature in the British report.
Some didn’t even make it to Australia before the abuse began, with one witness describing being sexually assaulted at sea on the journey from England.
One witness, Michael Hawes, told the inquiry his experiences at Dhurringile, north of Melbourne, could be “better described as torture than abuse”.
Another told of a group of 15 children being forced to watch as Christian Brothers killed a horse particularly loved by the youngsters as a form of collective punishment.
The report concludes that the welfare of the children was consistently ignored in favour of politics.
The British government was “reluctant to jeopardise relations with the Australian government by withdrawing from the scheme”, at a time when “populate or perish” was the Canberra mantra, it found.
“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,” chair of the inquiry Professor Alexis Jay said.
“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.”
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd apologised in 2009 for Australia’s role in the program with his British counterpart Gordon Brown following suit a year later.