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Thursday, July 16, 1998 Published at 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK

UK Politics

Child migrants deserve help tracing roots

Frank Dobson found child migration "astonishing"

The Health Secretary, Frank Dobson, has said child migrants deserve practical aid in tracing their family records in the UK.

[ image: Audrey Wise:
Audrey Wise: "this wasn't normal abuse"
He said he would consider giving an official apology to child migrants, many of whom suffered horrific treatment after being sent out for adoption in former British colonies like Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

However, Mr Dobson stopped short of promising them financial aid if their efforts to trace lost family members brought them back to the UK.

Mr Dobson told the Commons Health Select Committee, which is conducting an investigation into child migration: "I find it quite extraordinary that when we were watching England winning the World Cup in 1966, some child was being kidnapped and sent to Australia.

[ image: Many children were sent abroad without their parents' knowledge]
Many children were sent abroad without their parents' knowledge
"It beggars belief. Even if it was done with the best will in the world ... even if everything once the child had arrived in the recipient country had gone right, it seems to me that what was done was wrong."

Thousands of children were sent to the colonies under this scheme which was administered by church and children's charities, with government backing, between 1850 and 1967.

Many of the children were sent abroad without the knowledge of their parents. Some of the children were wrongly told their parents had died, while others were later denied access to family records once they had reached adulthood.

Labour committee member Audrey Wise said she had found herself "traumatised" by just hearing the evidence that had already been put before the committee.

Committee member Audrey Wise: "Like war crimes but without the war"
She added the physical and sexual abuse suffered by some of the children made investigating the programme seem like "war crimes but without the war".

Conservative member Robert Syms was keen for the government to help the migrants now grown to adulthood trace their roots.

Committee member Robert Syms on the migrants' desire to "fill a void"
Speaking on evidence he had heard in Australia he said it was vital that these people were given the chance "to fill a void".

The committee said it believed some of the charities involved in sending children abroad such as the Catholic Christian Brothers had been less than forthcoming with missing documentation for fear of legal suits.

Records should be made available

Mr Dobson said "If the records are there, they ought to be made available to any of the individuals affected by them who would like to see them."

He added that he would study the Committee's report carefully and said Health Minister Paul Boateng was visiting Australia where he was raising the issue of child migration with the authorities.

Mr Dobson will consult the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, on what help former migrants could get with legal action, both against their abusers, and in pursuit of disputed inheritances.

As the former migrants, and the parents some of them are attempting to trace, are growing older the committee said it would release its recommendations for further action at the end of this month.

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