Previous governments failed to halt ‘abusive’ child migration, inquiry finds


UK governments must bear the majority of the blame for failing to halt “abusive” child migration schemes, an inquiry has found.

Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry chairwoman Lady Smith has published her second volume of findings on the historic migration of children from Scotland.

Her first volume, published in March, found the child migration system was “abusive” and resulted in “many children being abused”.

“What is particularly striking is the failure of successive UK governments to terminate the practice of child migration; these governments must bear the brunt of the blame for the continuation of child migration policies.

“Successive UK governments supported the practice. That support began with legislation that recognised the potential of child migration as a means of populating the Dominions. And pressure came from receiving countries, such as Australia, which badly wanted to increase its population with white ‘stock’.

“I reject without hesitation any notion that any conclusion that the policy was deeply flawed is the product of a view that distorts the past by viewing it through the lens of today. It is obvious that it was deeply flawed at the time.”

The latest volume focuses on the history of child migration, the policies, systems and legislation under which it operated, and the responses of various organisations to questions about their involvement in it.

From the latter part of the 19th century until well into the second half of the 20th century, many thousands of children were sent away from Scotland, mainly to Canada and Australia.

Lady Smith found many of the children migrated had been abused while in care in Scotland, some were abused en route their destinations and many were also abused in the institutions they were sent to.

She said for all those migrated, the risk of abuse at their destinations was “high”, and child migration was “publicly considered as potentially abusive as early as 1875”.

“It continued in receiving countries and institutions, where children were exposed to harsh and neglectful conditions, used as slave labour, and were physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by individuals who owed them a duty of care.”

She added that the UK Government “enthusiastically pursued a policy of child migration”, adding: “The UK Government knew about the risk and actuality of this abuse and yet, for political and financial gains, allowed the schemes to continue operating.

“Former child migrants are still, too often, unsupported in practical and emotional ways, with their histories continuing to be left in the dark.”

She said in some cases pressure came from receiving countries, such as as Australia, which wished to increase its “white stock”, and the perception that care would be cheaper abroad was an “influential factor”.

The report found child migrants had “nowhere to turn to” and inspection systems in Canada and Australia were inadequate.

Lady Smith said concerns were raised over the risk of abuse while migration schemes were ongoing, as well as over missed education, poor conditions and ineffective inspections and the system should have been dealt a “fatal blow” by a critical 1956 report, but instead continued for decades.

She said the UK Government was aware of these concerns but did little, and regulations on migration envisaged in 1948 never materialised largely due to a backlash from the organisations which would be affected, which she said was an “indefensible state failure”.

She concluded that the “powerful testimony” of former child migrants “endorsed and developed what was found by other inquiries: that, however well-intentioned some of the proponents of child migration may have been, the policy of child migration was flawed.

Lady Smith said: “It severed children from families and their home country, resulting in a devasting loss of identity compounded by an exposure to abusive regimes.

“Children were treated as commodities, traded to countries like Canada and Australia to promote political, economic, and social agendas.

“Many child migrants bore the psychological scars associated with migration into adulthood and sadly, for far too many, to the grave.”

She noted that apologies from the Australian and UK Governments, as well as a redress scheme by the latter, have been “mostly well received”.

Despite contemporary reports that exposed the failings and abuse of those sent, children continued to be migrated there until 1948.

After the Second World War, Australia became the most popular destination for child migration, and between 1912 and 1970 about 7,000 children were migrated from the UK to Australia.

The inquiry found it is not possible to say how many child migrants originated in Scotland but probably about 8,088 children had been sent from Scotland to Canada by the 1920s and some were sent thereafter.

And at least 370 children were sent to Australia from Scotland over significant periods both pre- and post-Second World War.

The inquiry, which aims to raise public awareness of the abuse of children in care, is considering evidence up to December 17 2014, and which is within the living memory of any person who suffered abuse.

The UK Government has been contacted for comment.


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