Britain, Australia saying sorry to child migrants

Associated Press

November 15, 2009

LONDON — Britain and Australia are saying sorry to thousands of British children who were promised a better life overseas, only to suffer abuse and neglect thousands of miles from home.

The British government said Sunday that Prime Minister Gordon Brown will apologize for 20th-century child migrant programs that saw thousands of poor British children sent to Australia, Canada and other former colonies until the 1960s. Many ended up in institutions or were sent to work as farm laborers.

Brown's office said officials would consult with representatives of the surviving children before making a formal apology next year.

The Australian government says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will offer his own apology Monday to the child migrants, as well as to the "forgotten Australians," children who suffered in state care during the last century.

Sandra Anker, who was sent to Australia from Britain when she was six, said the British government "have a lot to answer for."

"We've suffered all our lives," she told the BBC. "For the government of England to say sorry to us, it makes it right – even if it's late, it's better than not at all."

The British government has estimated that a total of 150,000 British children may have been shipped abroad under a variety of programs that operated between the early 19th century and 1967.

A 2001 Australian report said that between 6,000 and 30,000 children from Britain and Malta, often taken from unmarried mothers or impoverished families, were sent alone to Australia as migrants during the 20th century. Some of the children were told, wrongly, that they were orphans.

The migration was intended to stop the children being a burden on the British state while supplying the receiving countries with potential workers. A 1998 British parliamentary inquiry noted that "a further motive was racist: the importation of 'good white stock' was seen as a desirable policy objective in the developing British Colonies."

British Children's Secretary Ed Balls said the child migrant policy was "a stain on our society."

"The apology is symbolically very important," he told Sky News television.

"I think it is important that we say to the children who are now adults and older people and to their offspring that this is something that we look back on in shame," he said.

"It would never happen today. But I think it is right that as a society when we look back and see things which we now know were morally wrong, that we are willing to say we're sorry."

But official apologies for historical wrongs have proved controversial.

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard resisted calls to apologize to institutionalized children and Australian Aborigines, arguing that contemporary Australians should not take responsibility for mistakes made by past generations.

Rudd reversed the policy after he was elected in 2007, apologizing to Aborigines for 200 years of injustice since European settlement.

At a ceremony Monday in Canberra attended by hundreds of former child migrants, Rudd will apologize for his country's role in the child migrants program and say sorry to the 7,000 survivors of the program who still live in Australia.

He also will apologize to the Australian children – more than 500,000, according to a 2004 Australian Senate report – who were placed in foster homes, orphanages and other institutions during the 20th century. Many were emotionally, physically and sexually abused in state care.


A sending country sends its apologies??

When I read pieces like the above article, I like to link the past to current practice, hoping I can see how history either repeats itself, or teaches new trends to another generation of people.  

The British government has estimated that a total of 150,000 British children may have been shipped abroad under a variety of programs that operated between the early 19th century and 1967.

Me thinketh the above information leads readers down the wrong misleading road associated with the history of child placement.  According to my own collected finds, child migration, (aka sending poor children - without their parents knowledge or consent - away to a far-away land), began in the early 1600's, not the 1800's.  

The organised emigration of poor children dates back to a least 1619, when the London Common Council despatched 100 vagrant children to join the first permanent English settlement in North America, Jamestown in Virginia. A further party was sent in 1620, and more followed in 1622 to join the reinforcements sent following the Indian Massacre of the settlers in Virginia. From the mid-1600s, the demand for labour in Britain's colonies led to the illegal emigration of hundreds of children through their "spiriting", or kidnapping, a practice particularly associated with Scotland. This ended in 1757 after a number of Aberdeen businessmen and magistrates were exposed for their involvement in the trade.   [From: Pauper Emigration under the new Poor Law ]

Poor vagrant children were sent away to work and live because there were several benefits to be found.

    1. The government did not have to pay for care.
    2. Although unwanted in the motherland,  "selected" white British stock was wanted and needed in soon-to-be-developed regions populated by people of a different culture and color.
    3. Those who thrived in the new land were expected to send a little something back to the ruling government, in the form of revenue.

Interestingly enough, with economic expansion, there came a desire to remove.... especially the worthless rif-raf that was not contributing to high-society.

Child migration peaked from the 1870s until the start of World War I. The 1920s emigration to Canada and Australia was small-scale by comparison, and the post-World War II child migration to Australia was minuscule. Some 80 000 children were emigrated to Canada before 1914; and only some 3,500–4,000 child migrants were sent to Australia after 1945.[15] Moreover, throughout the whole period – almost 100 years – the numbers of children emigrated were only a small fraction of the numbers of children in care throughout the United Kingdom.
The large increase in child migration after 1870 was triggered by desperate economic conditions over the previous few years: the social havoc caused by the 1866 cholera epidemic, the bad harvest of 1867 and widespread unemployment during a cyclic downturn in the economy. It was during this period that Annie Macpherson, Thomas Barnardo and William Booth commenced their work among the poorest and most destitute in the East End of London. To all of them, and many other religious workers, emigration seemed the one certain way for the desperately poor to better themselves.[16]
However, as well as the specific factors which led these people, and others such as William Quarrier (Orphan Homes of Scotland, Bridge of Weir, Glasgow), Robert Rudolf (Church of England ‘Waifs and Strays Society’) and Father Richard Seddon of the Catholic ‘Crusade of Rescue’, to favour emigration for their charges, there was a general climate of ideas which encouraged the sending of the children. The British Empire was reaching the peak of its expansion. This and industrial supremacy was exhilarating for some. On the other hand, amidst the rapid industrial expansion, there was for others a romantic longing for the simpler verities of rural life; a horror of the festering slums of the great cities; and a conviction that children of the lowest social class were better separated from their unworthy parents.
At higher levels of government and among some humanitarians was the realisation that emigration was a ‘safety-valve’ to tide over economic desperation in the British Isles, and to stave off revolution. Respectable middle-class society seemed threatened. Father Waugh wrote of ‘the verminous ill-fed hordes pressing closer’, while Samuel Smith, MP for Liverpool , believed that ‘the seething mass of human misery will shake the social fabric’ unless something was done to ease social tensions. Smith supported Barnardo’s Homes generously, but revolution was on his mind, not religion.  [From:  Child Migration: An Overview and Timeline ]

While many of the founding fathers of children's charities and foundling finders for paying partners have closed shop and faded away, Barnardo's charity is still going strong, in spite of the type of care given to children put in-care.  In fact, according to published reports, Barnardo's chief Martin Narey is quoted as saying, 'If you can take a baby very young and get them quickly into a permanent adoptive home, then we know that is where we have success.'.  Success for whom?  Those making money through child placement schemes and those saving money by not having to care for the poor? 

An apology is good only if the offending mistake does not go repeated.  Beginning in the 1600's, the UK government sent domestic born children out and away from their mother-land because poor children were littering the streets.  Decent care was not given to those children, causing all sorts of social problems.  Why was decent care not given?  Decent care is expensive, it requires an element of sacrifice and to give without great return would prove to be a costly mistake, not to mention feel like an enormous psychological burden. The UK government not only took and sent children away, but the UK government sent those poor children to places where they were used and abused.  After reading articles like, Two in three serious child abuse victims 'known to authorities',  Make greater use of charities for adoptions, councils urged , and 'Stop trying to fix families we can't fix': Barnardo's head's 'heretic' call for bad parents to lose their children , how much has changed, and how much has remained the same in the UK?

On a more global scale, how many sending countries are willing to offer a formal apology to those they sent away, because proper care would not be provided by the ruling government?  Will apologies be coming from China, Vietnam, Korea, and Guatemala?  <crickets chirping in the distance>.... Does a cold day in hell mean anything to anybody?

if or when

I believe there will be a day when Korea will apologize to its "former" children. Korea will grow over its inter-country adoption depency and one day look back upon a shameful past and seek to resolve it. Of course it will eventually only be a ceremonial gesture, like all formal apologies. It's essentially the closing of a book, decades after the last chapter has been written. An apology is usually given after the vast majority, of those responsible, have died.

What makes the apology about the child migration era more or less interesting, is the fact both parties involved make the apology. I wonder when Korea makes its apology to its "former" children, if the Western world will reciprocate that gesture. Will Sweden say it is sorry for using the influence of its wealth to acquire children. Will Italy make that gesture. Will the United states say it is sorry?

I even wonder more if countries will ever apologize to the children needlessly in foster care. Every time a child dies of abuse in its family, the knee jerk response of child protection authorities is to remove more children. Better safe than sorry, or erring on the side of the child, as its often called. The safety, removing more children offers, is entirely related to the job security of officials, and not to that of children. Foster care families are notoriously more unsafe than any other family form, so removing more children makes life less safe for those children.

I really wonder when we can leave behind the political response to the lethal abuse of a child. I really wonder if we will ever do so. Can countries find a way to canalize the outrage after the brutal death of a child, without victimizing other children in the process?

I also wonder if countries will ever apologize for the pressure exerted on unmarried women to give up their babies. For some 40 years, pregnancy out of wedlock, has gained more and more acceptance, by out-sourcing the moralistic pressure to crisis pregnancy centers. The old norm is transformed into organizations, doing what society no longer wants to do itself. So I really wonder when we can put behind the era where babies were harvested under women, unfortunate to get pregnant at the wrong moment in her life.

Empty as apologies may be, I hope I may live to hear them. That would mean certain countries have bettered their ways for at least two decades.

Do any fries go with that apology?

In addition to the words, "sorry, you got screwed", do the surviving victims get anything else from the government like gift-certificates that offer ten free back rubs, or names of family members they lost? A coca-cola? Anything? Just curious how formal government apologies operate in other parts of the world.

Pound Pup Legacy