Page last updated at 13:35 GMT, Sunday, 15 November 2009

UK child migrants apology planned

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Historian Dr Stephen Constantine reflects on a policy considered beneficial at the time

Gordon Brown is to apologise for the UK's role in sending thousands of its children to former colonies in the 20th century, the BBC has learned.

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

But many were abused and ended up in institutions or as labourers on farms.

Officials are consulting survivors of the programme so that a statement can be made in the new year.

On Monday, Australia's prime minister will apologise to the 7,000 UK migrants living there for the mistreatment.

Sandra Anker was sent out to Australia when she was six years old

He will deliver a national apology to the "Forgotten Australians" and recognise the mistreatment and ongoing suffering of some 500,000 people held in orphanages or children's homes between 1930 and 1970.

As they were compulsorily shipped out of Britain, many of the children were told - wrongly - their parents were dead, and that a more abundant life awaited them.

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.

HISTORY OF UK CHILD MIGRANTS
UK the only country with a sustained history of child migration - over four centuries
In 1618, 100 sent from London to Richmond, Virginia
In total 130,000 sent from the UK to Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) and Australia
Post-war, 7,000 shipped to Australia and 1,300 to New Zealand, Rhodesia and Canada
Source: Child Migrants Trust

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

In a letter to the chairman of the health select committee this weekend, Mr Brown said "the time is now right" for the UK to apologise for the actions of previous governments.

"It is important that we take the time to listen to the voices of the survivors and victims of these misguided policies," he wrote.

Kevin Barron, chairman of the select committee which looked into what happened, said he was "very pleased" to have received a written commitment from Mr Brown.

"After consultation with organisations directly involved with child migrants we are going to make an apology early in the new year," he said.

Baroness Amos, Britain's high commissioner in Canberra, said an apology was an important part of addressing the damage.

Baroness Amos: "This was a shocking period in our history"

She told the BBC: "We've always said that this was an absolutely shocking period in our history and it's important that there is an apology.

"The next stage will be consultation with the Child Migrants Trust and others on the actual form and wording of that apology."

Trust founder Margaret Humphreys has 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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