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Australian church apologies to child migrants


March 22, 2001 / BBC News

Australia's Roman Catholic Church publicly apologised on Thursday to British and Maltese child migrants who suffered abuse including rape, whippings and slave labour in religious institutions.

The apology was delivered at a parliamentary inquiry into child migration.

Two church bodies said the programme, in which more than 1,000 British and 310 Maltese children were sent to Australian Catholic schools between the late 1930s and 1960s, resulted in "suffering and dislocation".

Many children were raped, whipped, stripped of their names and forced to scramble for food thrown on the floor. Some children were also made to do hard labour, including construction work, at some schools.

The Church said it has allocated about $1m to help former child immigrants go back to their countries of origin, especially to meet relatives, as well as for counselling.

The child migration scheme, partly organised by the Church, was aimed at bringing "pure white stock" from Britain to former colonies. It ran from about 1850 right up to 1967.


Spokesman Tony Shanahan said the Church was "painfully aware" that some children suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

"We are sorry that some of those vulnerable children who should have found care and protection in our Catholic institutions suffered abuse."

Mr Shanahan added that the UK and Australian government should also take responsibility for the issue.

The International Association of Former Child Migrants Vice- President, Don Coleshill, who was shipped to Australia from Britain as a five-year-old in 1937, accepted the apology with "a very large grain of salt".

"They are only hollow words unless you say you want to do something to substantiate or support the apology," he said.

Joint policy

Although numbers are unclear, it is believed that a total of 130,000 were "exported" from Britain over a period of 100 years.

Children left in homes, due to broken marriages or family pressures, were sent from Britain, which in turn was relieved of caring from them.

Although classified as orphans, most children did in fact have parents, who were often unaware their children were sent away.

The full details of the scheme emerged as late as 1998 during a parliamentary inquiry in Britain.

The inquiry found that migrant children were subjected to systematic abuse in religious schools in Australia, New Zealand and other countries.

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2001 Mar 22