Former child migrants who were exposed to sexual violence and other threats during a “fundamentally flawed” overseas settlement policy should be offered financial compensation by the Government, a report has concluded.
Britain’s child migration programmes saw thousands, many in care or from poor backgrounds, sent to countries including Australia and New Zealand, partly to save money on care costs.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found that successive UK governments, which played a “central role” in the policy after World War Two, “failed to ensure that there were in place sufficient measures to protect children from sexual abuse”.
The then Prime Minister Gordon Brown formally apologised on behalf of the Government in 2010 for the programmes and later gave evidence to the inquiry, the first major domestic investigation into the abuse claims.
Led by Professor Alexis Jay, the panel examined the programmes as part of a broader investigation into the protection of children outside of the UK.
It published its first major report of findings after holding two sets of public evidence sessions last year.
The 162-page document said it was “essential” that all living former migrants – around 2,000 people – are offered financial redress promptly. Around 4,000 children in total were migrated post-war.
It said: “HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) was, over many years, the institution primarily responsible for the post-war child migration programmes.”
It went on: “However we have found that post-war child migration was a fundamentally flawed policy and that HMG failed to ensure that there were in place sufficient measures to protect children from sexual abuse (as well as other forms of abuse and neglect).”
It continued: “HMG has not yet made any financial redress directly to individual former child migrants.
“Most former migrants have died. This means that in many cases HMG has missed its opportunity to offer redress to those who were affected by its failure.
“However, around 2,000 migrants are alive today, and the panel considers it essential that all surviving former child migrants are offered such redress.”
The inquiry panel called on the Government to establish a “redress scheme” that should provide an equal award to every applicant, as it concluded all were exposed to the risk of sexual abuse.
Such measures should be introduced “without delay” and payments should begin within 12 months, it added.
The report said: “We are keen to ensure that the scheme is a simple one, in the hope that it can be effective soon, and make a real, immediate and lasting difference to the lives of the former child migrants.”
More than 100,000 British youngsters, some as young as two, were shipped abroad under programmes as far back as the 19th century.
The Government took over primary responsibility for the policy after the Second World War.
So-called “sending institutions” responsible for moving the children included local authorities, charities such as Barnardo’s and religious orders.
The policy was justified as a means of slashing the costs of caring for lone children, meeting labour shortages in the colonies, while populating them with white settlers and providing disadvantaged young people with a fresh start, the inquiry said.
Victims of abuse previously told the inquiry how they were left at schools and farms where sexual abuse was rife and suffered ritual mistreatment.
In Thursday’s report, the inquiry also demanded that other organisations involved in implementing the policy apologised to child migrants if they had not already done so.