A damning inquiry has called for Australians who previously suffered abuse after arriving as child migrants from Britain should be compensated, and called for the UK government to issue apologies to them.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its report on Thursday, focusing on the Child Migration Programme – and called for financial compensation for around 2,000 migrants who are still alive today. They were sent to Australia and parts of the British Empire between 1945-1970, often by charities and the Catholic church.
It follows hearings in 2017, where 48 witnesses appeared to share their experiences.
Around 4,000 children were sent abroad – to countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Zimbabwe – following the war and placed in farm schools or other institutions, and the report found of those 39 institutions, there was evidence of sexual and other forms of abuse at 16 of them.
The report shared interviews with some of the victims, and one witness, Michael Hawes, said his time at Dhurringile, north of Melbourne, could be “better described as torture than abuse”, revealing he was locked in a place known as the “dungeon”.
Meanwhile, David Hill described “public thrashings” in the village hall, and another witness, Edward Delaney, said he tried to kill himself at the age of 12.
Ultimately, the inquiry blamed a focus on politics at the time, saying: “We concluded that the main reason for HMG’s failure to act was the politics of the day, which were consistently prioritised over the welfare of children. HMG was reluctant to jeopardise relations with the Australian government by withdrawing from the scheme.”
Both the UK and Australia governments have previously apologised in 2009 and 2010, the BBC reports. This inquiry focused on England and Wales, while separate inquiries have been set up in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Inquiry chairwoman Professor Alexis Jay said: “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.
“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.
“We hope that this report offers acknowledgement to those who experienced abuse resulting from the child migration programmes.”