`The country is sorry for shameful child migrant program’: Brown
25 February 2010: Apologizing to the `Orphans of Empire’, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the country was sorry for the ‘shameful’ and ‘misguided’ child migrant program of the 1920 to 1960s. The programme, which ended 40 years ago, saw poor children sent to Australia and elsewhere for a "better life".
Brown told the House of Commons: ‘We are sorry they were allowed to be sent away when at their most vulnerable. We are sorry that instead of caring for them, this country turned its back.’
The formal apology came five months after the UK government expressed its willingness to saying sorry to thousands of British child migrants sent to Australia last century.
The development is significant as a large number of orphans are said to have suffered physical and emotional abuse. Estimates suggest as many as 10,000 poor “unwanted” children were sent out to Australia in two decades beginning 1947.
They were often falsely labelled as orphans; and were treated badly upon arrival on ships. Collectively, they came to be known as the `Orphans of the Empire’.
A government report, some five years ago, estimated that 500,000 children had been placed in orphanages or foster homes as they were born to single mothers or into poor families.
So far, both the Australian and the British governments have turned down the pleas for compensating former child migrants.
Brown had revealed his intention to apologise for the actions of previous governments in November. The announcement had come just before Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd offered his apology to those abused or neglected in state care.
The secretary of the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families, Harold Haig, said: The apology will help in healing a painful past for many former child migrants and their families.
Alan Gill, author of the expose `Orphans of Empire’, has already asked for compensation for those badly treated in the orphanages. He has categorically asserted neither Britain, nor Australia, showed any compassion in their matter.
Australia had earlier made public its plans to apologise to thousands of British children, who were admitted to orphanages, “where brutality and sexual abuse were everyday occurrences”.
Describing it as a “significant national step”, Families Minister Jenny Macklin had asserted it was likely to go a long way in contributing to the healing process.
The apology is expected to cover thousands of local children, who also suffered abuse and neglect after they were placed in government institutions or foster homes.