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Australia 'sorry' for child abuse

Kevin Rudd: "A spirit that has stubbornly refused to be beaten"

Australian PM Kevin Rudd has apologised to the hundreds of thousands of people, some British migrants, who were abused or neglected in state care as children.

Mr Rudd said he was "deeply sorry" for the pain caused to the children and their extended families.

He said he hoped the national apology would help to "heal the pain" and be a turning point in Australian history.

Some 500,000 "forgotten Australians" were abused or neglected in orphanages and children's homes from 1930 to 1970.

Mr Rudd's speech comes after his formal apology last year to Australia's Aboriginal community, especially the Stolen Generation.

These were Aborigines who were taken from their parents and sent to state institutions and white families to be brought up under a policy which ended in the 1960s.

'Lost childhoods'

The Canberra ceremony was attended by hundreds of people forced to migrate to Australia when young, some 7,000 of whom still live in Australia.

Some wept openly and held each other as Mr Rudd shared stories of survivors he had spoken to, including those who were beaten with belt buckles or sexually violated as children.

Kevin Rudd also offered an apology to child migrants taken from the UK to Australia after the war, often without their parents' consent.

ANALYSIS
Nick Bryant
Nick Bryant, BBC News, Canberra

No British prime minister has ever delivered an official apology, despite repeated demands from victims' group. Gordon Brown now plans to do so sometime in the new year.

The child migrants that I have spoken to say that Gordon Brown has been shamed into apologising by the Australian government

On Sunday, the UK government said the British prime minister would apologise for the forced migration policy next year.

"We are sorry," Mr Rudd told a gathering of 1,000 people at Parliament House.

"Sorry for the tragedy - the absolute tragedy - of childhoods lost.

"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."

Mr Rudd said the government would work to ensure that such a tragedy would never happen again.

"Let us resolve this day that this national apology becomes a turning point in our nation's story," he said. "A turning point for governments... to do all in our power to never allow this to happen again."

Mr Rudd said it was important to acknowledge the past in order to be able to move forward as a nation.

"The truth is, this is an ugly story," Mr Rudd told Parliament House. "The truth is great evil has been done."

Speaking directly to the gathering, he said: "It is my hope that from today, you will be called the 'remembered Australians'."

Migrants programme

Children waiting outside the SS Asturias

Under the Child Migrants Programme - which ended just 40 years ago - the UK sent poor children to a "better life" in Australia, Canada and elsewhere.

Most of the children were already in care after being taken from their families by the state or abandoned by their parents.

As they were compulsorily shipped out of Britain, many of them were told - wrongly - their parents were dead.

Many parents did not know their children, aged as young as three, had been sent to Australia.

Care agencies worked with the government to send disadvantaged children to a rosy future and supply what was deemed "good white stock" to a former colony.

In many cases they were educated only for farm work, and suffered cruelty and hardship including physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

The founder of the Child Migrants Trust, Margaret Humphreys, had travelled from the UK to Canberra for Mr Rudd's apology.

She said: "The trust has campaigned for over 20 years for this kind and degree of recognition. For child migrants, of course, it has been all their lives and for their families.

"This is a moment - a significant moment - in the history of child migration. The recognition is vital if people are to recover."



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SEE ALSO
Ordeal of Australia's child migrants
15 Nov 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Australian church apologies to child migrants
22 Mar 01 |  Asia-Pacific
Database boost for ex-child migrants
17 Aug 00 |  UK News
Child migrant apology 'will help'
15 Nov 09 |  Nottinghamshire
Charity welcomes migrant apology
02 Sep 09 |  Nottinghamshire

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