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Wednesday, May 20, 1998 Published at 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK


The children Britain did not want
image: [ Children were forced to work for long hours and little pay ]
Children were forced to work for long hours and little pay

Thirty years after Britain stopped sending its children overseas to other commonwealth countries, an investigation gets underway into the practice. It follows a legal battle by what became known as the 'child migrants'.

More than 130,000 children were 'exported', over a period of more than 100 years. The practice was only stopped in 1967. Many of those who were migrants themselves say it had a devastating effect on their lives.

A Health Committee inquiry, which opens on Wednesday, is to hear evidence from people who, as children, were deported to Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the former Rhodesia.

Migrant David Hall: "I had no rights"
The Commons inquiry will try to establish how the British Government should help former child migrants "come to terms with their childhood experience and establish contact with their surviving relations in the UK". One of the questions it will be considering is whether they are entitled to any form of compensation.

A life in the sun

[ image: Boys often had to do hard physical labour]
Boys often had to do hard physical labour
The child migration programme left thousands of people with no knowledge of their background and family history. Many children left in homes, due to broken marriages or family pressures, were shipped overseas.

The reasons behind the scheme were practical. It helped populate the Commonwealth with white children and it relieved Britain of the burden of looking after them. At the time the organisations involved also thought that the children were likely to have a better life abroad.

Classified as orphans, although the majority were not, many children were often sent away without the knowledge of parents or relatives, and were denied details of their family. Brothers and sisters were separated and some children faced appalling conditions in large institutions or were forced to work for long hours and little pay.

Sentimental journey

[ image: Some thought they were taking a day trip]
Some thought they were taking a day trip
Rose Kruger, a former child migrant, met her sister for the first time in 50 years in 1997. She was one of group of 40 women who returned to Britain to be reunited with lost family members or just to visit the country they once called home.

Rose was deported was she was 11 years old. She lived in a Catholic orphanage in Scotland and one day was told she was going on holiday. Her sister, who was three years older, did not know where Rose had been sent until nine years ago.

The trip, which the 40 former child migrants dubbed "the sentimental journey", was partially funded by Catholic charities and the Australian Child Migrant Foundation.

The Catholic Church now acknowledges that in many cases the migrant policy had a "profoundly adverse effect" on the children. Many of the organisations like Barnados and the Salvation Army, which originally sent the children overseas, now try to help reunite former child migrants with relatives, wherever possible.

The Child Migrants Trust

[ image: Rose Kruger meets her sister Margaret after 50 years]
Rose Kruger meets her sister Margaret after 50 years
Tracking down relatives after so much time and with little information can be a difficult task. A former Nottinghamshire social worker, Margaret Humphries, set up The Child Migrants Trust in 1987 after being approached to help track down a former child migrant's family. It has since helped to locate the relatives of many former child migrants and reunite families.

Mrs Humphries welcomed the Government's inquiry. "The Child Migrants Trust has been campaigning for the governments to consider this important step for the past decade. For the first time this remarkable group of people will be offered the opportunity to put their views before British MPs," she said.

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