Sunday, November 25, 2018

Forgetting the unwanted

Between the end of the second world war and 1970, successive UK governments allowed thousands of children, almost exclusively from deprived backgrounds, to be removed from their families, foster carers and care homes to be sent to institutions or families in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Southern Rhodesia, ostensibly in the belief that they would enjoy a better life. Some 4,000 were sent to Australia.

For many children, the promised land failed to deliver. They were sent abroad, often without their parents’ consent. Large numbers were sexually and physically abused, while hunger and neglect were familiar enemies. Their education tended to be poor and they were often forced to perform exhausting manual work. Witnesses described “care” regimes which included physical, sexual and emotional abuse as well as neglect. “Some described constant hunger, medical neglect and poor education, the latter of which had, in several instances, lifelong consequences,” the report found. “By any standards of child care, then or at the present time, all of this was wrong.”

A former child migrant said his experiences at one school were “better described as torture than abuse”, and recounted how he was locked in a place known as “the dungeon” without food or water for days. Another told of “backbreaking” work on the construction of a school building. A third spoke of a failure to give him medical care, which resulted in the loss of an eye. In some places, there were persistent beatings, and one witness described how he had tried to kill himself at the age of 12.

Michael, who was placed with the Christian Brothers in Perth, Western Australia, where he was raped, abused and starved, told the inquiry he felt abandoned by his country. He recounted how one Brother “organised special punishment days for the boys, during which he would make them watch horses being killed”. The children were so hungry they hunted in bins for scraps and on one occasion roasted a cat to eat.

Victims complain that their betrayal continues. Despite a government-commissioned inquiry recommending the urgent creation of a compensation scheme, there has been little sign of action.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) recommended that a redress scheme for all child migrants should start within 12 months – 1 March 2019 at the latest. But the deadline came and went. It has meant some victims will never receive what the UK owes them. To date, at least 21 former child migrants are known to have passed away without justice since the report was issued. A similar inquiry in Australia established a redress scheme in little over six months.

“Consecutive governments have let these British citizens down,” said Alison Millar, a partner at Leigh Day. “First as children deported to foreign lands without any safeguards, then as adults left to cope alone with what they had endured and now this government, faced with recommendations from its own inquiry, is letting them down again in their advancing years..."

No comments: