THE WELFARE OF FORMER BRITISH CHILD MIGRANTS
The Human Consequences of Child Migration
60. Not all child migrants had unhappy experiences
or emerged traumatised into the adult world. In his recently published
study of child migration, the Australian journalist Alan Gill
estimates that "possibly about 50% of the total number of
child migrants have positive stories".
Professor Brian Taylor of the Ellen Foundation told us that former
child migrants in Canada
"do not want apologies.
They are not about to launch class action suits. The surviving
Home Children are old. Mostly it has turned out, from my experience
of speaking to them and interviewing them in their homes, to be
a beneficial process for them.".
One former child migrant wrote to us:
"It is with deep respect
and gratitude that I acknowledge the enormous dedication and genuine
sincerity with which the Christian Brothers with whom I came in
contact performed their 'Parental Duties'. Without their love
and support, I would not have achieved the success I have today."
This contributor had arrived in Australia without
"documentation or personal possessions" and was only
able, through his own initiative, to trace and make contact with
his mother's family seven years after her death.
61. There is undoubtedly room for argument about
how large a proportion of child migrants found their overseas
upbringing to be a damaging experience. Some of the representatives
of sending agencies who appeared before us argued that the cases
of abuse and hardship were not as numerous as bodies like the
Child Migrants' Trust claim. When asked why the issue of child
migration had only recently received attention, Mr Nigel Haynes,
Director of Fairbridge, replied: "I put it to you, was it
an issue or has it become one?"
Mr Haynes later criticised the television 'docu-drama' about child
migration, The Leaving of Liverpool, as being sensationalised
and not based on fact.
62. Canon Christopher Fisher, Chairman of the Catholic
Child Welfare Council, argued that a majority of child migrants
in Catholic institutions in Australia had benefited from the experience:
"If I could give evidence
from a more representative range of witnesses, I visited Australia
myself in 1995 and I visited every single institution either past
or present to which these former migrants went and I visited heads
of homes, staff, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, everybody involved
there, and I interviewed approximately 100 former migrants out
of our 1,147 which I think was fairly representative. I would
suggest to you, and I do not want to mitigate in any way the abuse
that some of those former migrants experienced, that I met far
more people who were happy with that migration than were unhappy
with it in order to get what I would call an unbiased opinion
of the whole thing."
63. Canon Fisher also argued that conditions which
might seem harsh today may have seemed less so in the cultural
climate of 50 years ago:
"I was in a boarding
school in England in 1948 and when I read some of the stories
of the experience of migrants in the homes they were in in Australia
... they were the same conditions in public schools in England
at the time in terms of cold-water showers, a very inadequate
diet, outdoor working in the fields and all the other things that
went on, so I think we really have to look at the historical context
64. Representatives of other sending agencies, in
particular Barnardo's and NCH Action for Children, regretted their
organisations' involvement and accepted that much harm had been
done to individuals. Ms Caroline Abrahams, Head of the Public
Policy Unit at NCH Action for Children, said that "no one
in their right mind today would seek to justify child migration".
Mr Roger Singleton, Chief Executive of Barnardo's, spoke of "the
heavily adverse impacts of being migrated on people individually".
He added that he was "very ashamed" at the way in which
Barnardo's had operated child migration schemes and been proud
of doing so.
65. The comments by Canon Fisher we have quoted in
paragraph 62 above were made before we visited Australia in 1998.
The conclusion we drew from our visit was the complete opposite
to that drawn by Canon Fisher in his earlier visit. We held a
mixture of private and open sessions with former child migrants,
which afforded us the opportunity to meet over 200 people. Only
a small handful described their experience as having been a happy
one. Even those who did expressed also an awareness of flaws in
the system and the damage caused to others. The great majority
of the former child migrants we met gave us accounts of cruelty,
neglect, and physical and sexual abuse.
66. One former child migrant stated that "most
of us have been left with broken hearts and broken lives."
The consequences of child migration for many include difficulties
in forming or maintaining relationships; fear of closeness and
a need to be understood;
including many attempts at suicide
and alcoholism; and feeling socially handicapped.
We have also heard accounts of inability to accept authority or
hold down a job, a propensity to itinerant lifestyles.
Mr Norman Johnston, a former child migrant, told us:
"There are hundreds
and hundreds of child migrants in Australia who are, if not destitute,
so introverted, they are so scared, so fearful, they have no self-esteem,
they have no self-respect. This was all removed from them during
their upbringing in Australia. It was physically and brutally
67. The fact that in some cases former child migrants
have achieved a measure of worldly prosperity and success does
not mean that all is well with them. The Child Migrants' Trust
"Even those with successful
careers feel overwhelmed at times by the many experiences of loss
and deprivation which they have suffered both before and after
their migration. Many lack a coherent understanding of both the
reasons for their migration and their history of placements with
their family in Britain and in care."
Success in life is, of course, relative. In a written
submission, a former child migrant remarked
"People invariably want
to know: 'Are you better off?' This was the main reason given
for deporting us as children. It is a selfish, loaded, insulting
and unanswerable question."
Mr Norman Johnston told us:
"I deem myself to be
one of those successful people but I would forego the total success
I have had for another ten minutes with my mother."
68. Another former child migrant wrote to tell us:
"For the vast majority
of former child migrants the most often asked question is 'Who
am I?' Most of us were born in the British Isles of British parents.
Our culture, heritage and traditions are British. Our nationality,
our rights and privileges were our inheritance. Unable to make
a reasoned decision we were transported twenty thousand kilometres
to the other side of the world. Our crime for the most part was
that we were the children of broken relationships. Our average
age was eight years and nine months. In this one act, we were
stripped of our parents and our brothers and sisters. We were
stripped of our grandparents and extended families. We were stripped
of nationality, culture and birthright. Many of us were stripped
of our family name and even our birth date. We were stripped of
our person hood, human rights and our dignity. We were referred
to as migrant boy number 'so and so' or migrant girl number 'so
and so'. And so we arrived, strangers in a strange land, lost
and with no way back."
The de-humanising effect of being referred to as
a number was mentioned by a number of former child migrants during
our visit to Australia. This, coupled with verbal abuse, left
them with feelings of worthlessness.
69. A sense of missing identity is a burden carried
by many former child migrants. A former migrant to Australia who
now lives in Canada told us:
"There has always been
the basic question of who am I and where did I really come from.
The feeling of being alone in the world and having no identity
... We were not allowed to ask any questions, if we did the answer
was invariably the same, don't worry about the past, you are here
now and this is the best time of your life. What did they think
was going on in our minds? Of course we could not forget who we
were, the reminders were there every day and they are still there
today ... We have no identity or family history that we can look
back to, and in my case my nationality has always been a question
mark ... I didn't even know my mother's name until I was in my
late twenties ... The Birth Certificate I had been given was a
Short Form Birth Certificate which did not even have my mother's
name on it."
70. Lack of a proper education has also handicapped
former child migrants. The ethos at Fairbridge was to develop
boys as farmers and girls as farmers' wives, and education was
seen as superfluous to that end. Elsewhere, clothing was often
inadequate and when the time came former child migrants were discharged
into the community without necessary preparation for life in the
outside world and with little or no personal documentation.
When young people left, at around 16, it seems to us that little
attempt was made to ensure that their placements were suitable.
We heard evidence that many of the girls went to remote farms
where they were subjected to a life of sexual abuse.
71. The casualness with which agencies exposed children
in their care to potential abuse is astonishing. One former child
migrant told us of her experiences at a Fairbridge scheme in Rhodesia:
"I am not sure if you
are aware of what happened to us during the school holidays when
Fairbridge school effectively closed down. Advertisements for
'us' were placed in the national press and we were forwarded by
train to the people who responded at the outset of the holidays
and returned at the end. I as a six year old travelled, with a
group of other youngsters for the first 12 hours, and then on
my own, approximately 400 miles by train, a journey which took
over 24 hours. This was to stay with a couple who had not been
met by anyone from Fairbridge, they had applied to have a child
stay in their house. I continued travelling to and from this home
six times a year for a number of years. ... I did not suffer any
of the forms of abuse that have been documented by other child
migrants, I was however well aware of others who were being abused
in the homes they went to during the holidays.
72. Many of the first-hand accounts we received from
former child migrants described events as heart-rending as anything
in The Leaving of Liverpool. One example out of many sticks
in our recollection: a former child migrant who had been placed
in voluntary care in Liverpool by his mother, a single parent
who could not afford to keep him at home, told us that he had
been sent to Australia without his mother's consent. He remembered
a harrowing scene at a railway station in which his motherdesperate
to get him backstruggled with a nun on the platform while
he was taken away by train.
73. What we have heard from former child migrants,
and the accounts they have given us in writing, leave us in no
doubt that hardship and emotional deprivation were the common
lot of child migrants, and that cases of criminal abuse were not
infrequent. We regard the comments by Canon Fisher and Mr Haynes
cited earlier in this section as being complacent in respect of
the circumstances of former child migrants who suffered that hardship
64 Gill, p 9. Back
CM 115. See also CM 90. Back
Q 210. Back
Qq 212 and 213. Back
Q 216. Back
CM 113. Back
CM 88. Back
CM 91. Back
CM 134. Back
CM 142 Back
CM 145. Back
CM 27. Back
Q 151. Back
CM 13A. Back
CM 23. Back
Q 141. Back
CM 224. Back
CM 44. See also CM 124. Back
CM 78. Back
CM 13A. Back
CM 161A Back