Select Committee on Health Third Report


New Zealand

The Royal Over-Seas League

27. Child migration usually involved collaboration between the British Government, a voluntary agency, and the receiving government. As the damaging consequences of child migration have become apparent in recent years, there has been a tendency for the various bodies involved to seek to downplay their former involvement and thus to minimise the extent of their current responsibility for former child migrants. An example of this can be seen in the context of New Zealand.

28. The Royal Over-Seas League is a self-funded Commonwealth organisation which, amongst other activities, "develops joint welfare projects with specific countries". In the 1940s and 1950s it was involved with child migration to New Zealand. The League and the New Zealand Government have offered us significantly different accounts of their respective roles in relation to the migration scheme.

29. The League in its memorandum told us that:

30. The New Zealand Department of Social Welfare contests the League's claim that it "acted solely as a recruitment agency." The Department argues that "this is only a partial description of the League's role" and that it was the League which proposed the scheme in the first place.[33] They cite a letter dated 2 January 1947 to the NZ High Commission in London from the League "submitting to your officials our proposals with regard to the migration of children to New Zealand" and suggesting "that we inaugurate a scheme for the migration to New Zealand of children between the ages of 8 and 15 years". In 1948 the NZ Secretary of Labour and Director of Employment issued a press statement which stated that "the Scheme was originally suggested by the Over-Seas League". The memorandum from the Department of Social Welfare acknowledges that the NZ Government did itself play a proactive role in developing the scheme, but notes also that the British Government was consulted about and approved the principle of the scheme, although it was not prepared to take any active part.[34]

31. The evidence submitted by the New Zealand Government supports the view that the involvement of the Royal Over-Seas League in child migration to New Zealand was significantly greater than the League has been prepared to admit. The League has told us that it has retained no files on the subject and its memorandum was prepared solely on the basis of entries in its monthly published journals. In the light of the further information we have received from New Zealand, we recommend that the League reconsider its disavowal of responsibility for child migration to that country. It should join with other voluntary agencies in making a contribution towards improving the welfare of former child migrants.

New Zealand: Other Issues

32. During our visit to New Zealand we explored various other issues relating to the experience of child migrants.

33. We were told by the Director of the Department of Social Welfare that parental consent was required for the migrants; there had been a major effort to involve both parents. The signed approval of a magistrate had also been necessary. We were told that every child placement was agreed to by parents or guardians prior to departure from the UK and that many children were placed with extended family members. If siblings were to be separated on arrival this would have been known in advance, but attempts were made to keep siblings in the same area. Most children travelled to New Zealand on a 'document of identity' which was a one-sheet visa, and in many cases had no passport. On arrival the children became wards of the state, an arrangement which, according to one former child migrant we met, carried a stigma in itself. This status did not automatically entail New Zealand citizenship, a complication which has caused subsequent difficulties for many.

34. The Associate Minister of Social Welfare told us that whilst former child migrants in New Zealand had had mixed experiences, some had adapted well and enjoyed successful lives. His sense was that overall the experience was positive. The limited nature of the New Zealand scheme, and the fact that it appears to have been better organised than some of the other schemes, seems to have led to fewer cases of severe abuse. Nonetheless, we met many former child migrants during our visit to New Zealand who resented the way they had been treated. "Exported like a commodity", "Exported as free labour", "No adequate supervision", "Education stuffed up", "Cut off", "Loss of identity", "Not informed where siblings were", and "Why?" are some of the comments we heard. One woman told us that her files indicate that her mother soon recognised the mistake she had made in consenting to migration and pleaded in letters for her child's return. The response was that the mother was insane and would not a make a good parent. A number of cases of abuse and neglect were described to us during our visit.

35. Our discussions with Department of Social Welfare officials and the Associate Minister of Social Welfare in New Zealand were constrained by our interlocutors' awareness of litigation being brought against the New Zealand Government. For this reason we were unable to discuss with them the question of the adequacy of monitoring of child migrants' welfare. Welfare checks do appear to have taken place. We have received written evidence from a former Child Welfare Officer who states:

One common complaint made by former child migrants was that they lacked opportunity to speak alone with the Welfare Officer making the inspection.

36. An example was of a girl who went to New Zealand at the age of 10. She gave an account of living on a farm, and working hard both on the farm and in the house. She was beaten for reading books. She was sexually abused and raped. At age 12 she ran away but was brought back by the police. She used an expression we were also to hear in Australia: there was no one to run to. She never saw the Welfare Officer alone. She had later managed to educate herself, and said that "externally I am living a good life, but not in myself". Another told us of scrubbing floors at 8 years old, and being "available for the males of the house from the age of 9 till 14". We were told of a volunteer escort who at the end of the voyage wanted to keep in touch with the two little girls of whom she had grown fond, but was refused their addresses and told no contact would be allowed. Many years later she managed to find them again.

37. Most of the former child migrants we encountered during our visit to New Zealand had arrived via the post-Second World War scheme which ran until 1953. But the problems of an earlier generation of former child migrants were illustrated by the experience of one woman we met (on the day she celebrated her eightieth birthday) in Wellington. She had been transferred from a children's home in Britain, at the age of four, to a children's home in New Zealand. She wrote to us:

    " Throughout childhood and up to the age 18, whenever I raised the question of my identity, I was always advised by the Salvation Army that my parents had died on the journey to NZ and I had no known family."[36]

At the age of 72 the woman was traced, after much detection work, by a niece living in the UK, who informed her of siblings from whom she had been separated. The news "devastated" her. Information concerning her background has been difficult to come by and is still incomplete. A letter from the Social Services Department of Oxfordshire County Council dated 21 November 1989 gives some basic details provided by the County Archivist at Berkshire Record Office, but prefaces these with the remark that:

    "Normally this information is not available for public consultation until at least 2026, which is why [the County Archivist] can't release the original documents."[37]

We shall deal later in this report with issues arising from former child migrants' desire to access records of this kind, and make recommendations aimed at reducing the difficulties which they currently encounter.

38. Since 1995 the New Zealand Government has made it possible for former child migrants to obtain New Zealand citizenship free of charge if they wish. We commend the fact that the New Zealand Government has a civil servant dedicated to dealing with child migration issues. We suggest that this should be better publicised.

32   CM 184. Back

33   CM 180B. Back

34   Ibid. Back

35   CM 228. Back

36   CM 226. Back

37   Ibid. Back

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