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Last Updated: Wednesday February 24 2010 15:56 GMT

Prime minister apologises to children sent abroad

Children being sent to Australia in 1932. They were promised a 'better life'.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said sorry to thousands of people who were sent abroad years ago when they were children - and treated badly.

There used to be a scheme in the UK where poor children between the ages of three and 14 were sent to countries like Australia for a 'better life'.

Sadly these children were often badly abused and were unhappy. Many ended up in orphanages or worked hard on farms.

This happened from the 1920s to the 1960s, but it's stopped now.

Mr Brown also announced a £6m fund to help reunite the families who were torn apart by the scheme.

Children being put onto a ship bound for Australia in 1940. They were promised a 'better life'.
Children being put onto a ship bound for Australia in 1940

More than 130,000 children were sent away from the UK. Some were told their families had died, and their parents had very little information about where their children were going.

Many children were told they were only going away 'for the day', or believed that they'd be living happier, richer lives.

In reality, many were kept in bad conditions and treated cruelly by the people who were supposed to be looking after them.

Although this happened decades ago, Gordon Brown is the first British Prime Minister to officially say sorry for what happened.

'Let down'

In his speech, Mr Brown said: "To all those former child migrants and their families; to each and every one - I say today we are truly sorry. They were let down."

Orphans on their way to Australia in 1948
Orphans on their way to Australia in 1948.

The Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, said sorry for his country's part in the tragedy in November 2009.

Sixty people who were sent from the UK to Australia were flown to London so they could hear Gordon Brown's apology in person.