2 March 2018 | Comment

Child migration to Australia: IICSA urges the UK to compensate victims

On 1 March 2018 the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) released its Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report (Report) which detailed the findings of the March 2016 hearings into cases involving British children in care who were sent to various Commonwealth countries throughout the world and suffered sexual abuse as a result.

The child migrants were sent to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).  After the Second World War around 4,000 children were migrated from Britain and a majority of these children were sent to Australia.  This mainly occurred between 1947 and 1965 but the Report notes the last child migrated to Australia from Britain was in 1970.

The receiving institutions were spread throughout Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland and included Fairbridge Farm School, Northcote Farm School; Barnardo’s School, Drapers Hall; Methodist Children’s Home; Dalmar Children’s Home; Methodist Home for Girls; Nazareth House; St Joseph’s Orphanage; Casteldare Boys’ Home; Tardun Farm School; Clontarf Boy’s Orphanage; Bindoon Boys Town and St Vincent de Paul’s Orphanage.

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse documented the failings of some of these institutions to protect migrant children from sexual abuse across various case studies and the UK Government has acknowledged children were mistreated and suffered physical and sexual abuse prior to migration, during transit, and in the institutions they were placed.

The Report details the harrowing accounts of witnesses who had been migrated to Australia as part of the child migration program and were raped by those entrusted to care for them.  Some witnesses recounted being sent to Australia as they had reported their experience of sexual abuse in England and Wales.  The witnesses who gave evidence to the IICSA should be commended for their bravery in sharing such personal and troubling accounts, as their evidence has made the Report possible.

Understandably, some witnesses expressed exasperation in the UK Government's response to this issue to date.  Whilst Gordon Brown apologised on behalf of the UK Government in 2010, no support or monetary reparation followed to assist in compensating victims who had been robbed of a childhood by the appalling child migration policy and the unforgivable lack of oversight and protection to those who required it most.

The Report makes clear the UK Government of the time is unable to hide behind blindness to these issues, as documentation was put in evidence showing incidence of sexual abuse had been reported, albeit in different terminology as would be used today.  Further, the UK Government is unable to say child sexual abuse was not known to be a prevalent issue as legislation exists as early at 1885 recognising the legal and moral wrongs of sexual interference with a child.

In light of its extensive findings, the IICSA panel recommended the UK Government compensate surviving child migrants as no redress scheme has yet been established and the IICSA says it is essential to do so.The IICSA panel recommends an equal award to be made to every applicant via a redress scheme, even those who were not abused as there was a risk they would be and those children were not appropriately protected from this risk.

The IICSA panel urges the UK Government to establish this redress scheme without delay with a view to making payments within 12 months and payment should be made without reduction for payments of compensation already made.

This is a just outcome for those affected by the child migration policy and the institutional failure to protect those children from abuse.  It is now to the UK Government to implement the IICSA recommendations and Hugh James will advocate strongly for those recommendations to be implemented swiftly.

Those who consider they have a claim under the foreshadowed redress scheme, whether resident in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Zimbabwe or the United Kingdom, should contact the specialist abuse litigation team at Hugh James for advice and guidance.

The abuse team, led by partner Alan Collins, has a wealth of experience acting for clients in similar redress schemes established in Jersey and in the IICSA itself.  Further, the abuse team can offer cross-jurisdictional expertise having both solicitors qualified in England and Wales and Australian qualified solicitors ready to assist in any claim.

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