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Australia apologises for abuse of child migrants from Britain

The Australian Prime Minister has apologised to thousands of British children who were sent to Australia where they suffered abuse at the hands of their carers.

By: Jenna Lyle
Monday, 16 November 2009, 21:12 (EST)
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The Australian Prime Minister has apologised to thousands of British children who were sent to Australia where they suffered abuse at the hands of their carers.

From the 1930s to 1970s, around 7,000 impoverished British children were shipped to Australia by churches and charities as part of the Child Migrants Programme. The children, some as young as three, were sent to Australia with the promise of a “better life” and to supply the country with "good white stock" but many ended up suffering physical, psychological and sexual abuse in state institutions or on farms.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an emotional apology to around 1,000 victims at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday, at one point embracing a tearful victim.

“We come together today to offer our nation's apology. To say to you, the Forgotten Australians, and those who were sent to our shores as children without their consent, that we are sorry," Mr Rudd said.

“Sorry that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused. Sorry for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.

"Sorry for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost. Childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places where names were replaced by numbers, spontaneous play by regimented routine, the joy of learning by the repetitive drudgery of menial work."

Around 150,000 children were shipped to Australia, Canada and other former colonies over three and a half centuries. Many of the children sent to Australia were taken from care homes and orphanges and were told their parents were dead, while parents were led to believe their children had been adopted within the UK.

Mr Rudd said he hoped the apology could be a “turning point in our nation’s story”.

“The truth is, this is an ugly story. The truth is, great evil has been done,” he added.

Leader of the opposition, Malcolm Turnbull choked back tears as he told of children who had been "abandoned and betrayed".

“Many of you were abandoned and left without love, many of you were beaten and abused, physically, sexually, mentally treated like objects not people,” he said. “Today we want you to know, we admire you, we believe you, we love you.”

The British Government confirmed on Sunday that Prime Minister Gordon Brown would issue an apology for the Child Migrants Programme in the New Year.

The Roman Catholic Church apologised in 2001 to British and Maltese child migrants who suffered abuse, including rape, whippings and slave labour, in its schools.

Around 1,000 British and 300 Maltese children were sent to Australian Catholic schools from the late 1930s to 1960s. The Church admitted the programme had resulted in "suffering and dislocation" for many of the children.


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