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IICSA report on British child-migration programme criticises Christian charities involved

09 March 2018

John Stoud/Hodder and Stoughton

A party of ‘waifs and strays’ pictured in 1930, taken from the book Thirteen Penny Stamps: The Story of the Church of England Children’s Society (Waifs and Strays) from 1881 to the 1970s, by John Stroud

A party of ‘waifs and strays’ pictured in 1930, taken from the book Thirteen Penny Stamps: The Story of the Church of England Children’s Society (Waif...

CHURCH and Christian organisations embroiled in an investigation into child migration, carried out by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), have apologised for the “mistakes of the past” and for the continued suffering of the victims.

A report of the findings of the IICSA investigation into the experiences of children who were sent overseas by charities and other organisations in the UK, as part of government-backed child-migration programmes, was published last week.

It also considers the extent to which these institutions took sufficient care to protect these children from sexual abuse, including whether they knew, and acted on, disclosures.

About 4000 children were sent from their families, mostly to Australia but also to Canada, New Zealand, and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) after the Second World War.

The report states that the government departments, public authorities, and charities which participated in these child-migration programmes were responsible “to varying degrees” for the care of these children, and must be held to account.

It includes detailed evidence, heard at a public hearing held in London, last March, of children’s being neglected, beaten, tortured, raped, sexually abused, and forced into sexual contact with animals at various schools, homes, and foster-care institutions both before and after migration from England.

“We heard that there were few, if any, means of reporting abuse, and children lived in fear of reprisals if they did so,” the report says. “They were disbelieved and intimidated, often with violence. One witness was told to ‘pray’ for her abuser, with no further action being taken on the abuse. Another was told not to tell anyone when he reported that he had been raped.”

Witnesses also spoke of the trauma of psychological abuse: witnessing the slaughter of beloved pets, repeatedly being told that they were not wanted, and being lied to about the history or whereabouts of their parents and family.

“This had a lifelong impact, including on their physical and mental well-being and their ability to form relationships.”

This effect was made worse, it says, by institutions’ failing to keep records properly, losing records, and “effectively robbing these children of their identity. The effects of this carelessness and poor practice cannot be overestimated.”

The report concludes that, like the Government, most voluntary organisations had failed in their duty to protect the children whom they had sent overseas — some as young as five years old. These organisations included the Christian institutions Barnardo’s, the Church of England Children’s Society, and the Church of England Advisory Council for Empire Settlement (CEACES).

“We understand that the last child was migrated to Australia in 1970,” it states. “We have seen no evidence that migration ended because the [Government] decided it was wrong. It appears to have stopped at least in part because the ‘supply’ of suitable children dried up. Increasing numbers of childcare professionals rejected the scheme on moral and ethical grounds.”

The National Safeguarding Team of the C of E has renewed its apology for the CEACES’s support of the government migration programme, which it had first issued in June last year, before a public hearing was conducted by IICSA into British child-migration programmes.

“As we stated after the hearing last summer, we pay tribute to the courage of the former child migrants who came forward to share their stories, providing detailed accounts of how unaccompanied children sent abroad, supposedly for a better life, often suffered appalling hurt and abuse. While there is some evidence of reporting back to CEACES, we accept that this was not enough to provide detailed information on how the children were being treated abroad.”

The child-migration programme of the Children’s Society ended in 1961. The charity also issued a full apology in June last year, and has since commissioned an independent review into its involvement.

Its chief executive, Matthew Reed, issued a further “long overdue” apology, last week. “It is absolutely right that we face up to our own history, and acknowledge that we have, at times, failed some of the very children we sought to help.

“We know that we can never undo the past, but we want to reiterate the unreserved public apology we made last year to anyone the Children’s Society has let down or damaged. We are deeply sorry for the hurt and anguish suffered by children who were separated from their families and migrated to other parts of the world, and for the trauma suffered by those who were abused by the people who were supposed to care for them in their new country.”

A spokesperson for Barnardo’s said on Tuesday: “While we look back at child migration with abhorrence, it was believed at the time that it was in the child’s best interest, and it was widely accepted policy, encouraged by both British and overseas governments.

“We apologise to those child migrants who were abused while in the care of Barnardo’s UK. We are truly sorry for their experiences of that abuse and for any harm they suffered. We will continue to apologise, acknowledge, and provide support to child migrants, as we have throughout our history.”

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