In a very welcome move, the nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse has decided to look into what happened to children taken from their parents and sent to Australia and Canada between 1920 and 1970.
Researching Reform has been quietly campaigning for this particular event to be investigated and in March 2015 we wrote to Australia’s Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse urging them to look into the thousands of children who arrived from England only to be left homeless, and all too often rounded up by religious institutions who went on to sexually and physically abuse them for decades.
We sent the Royal Commission an email outlining the details and included a link to a speech made by Lord Blackheath, a peer in the House of Lords, who was himself part of the emigration movement at the time, organising for these children to leave England and be transported to places like Australia, where it was clear they did not have the correct legal permissions to travel, or relocate. This was common knowledge not just in Australia, but in England too, meaning many of those responsible for transporting these children, like Lord Blackheath, were in fact breaking the law. To make matters worse, those involved at the time were clearly aware that children travelling to Australia would most likely be abused.
Now it seems the Royal Commission in Australia and our own Inquiry into child sexual abuse will be working together to find out just what happened to these children. Australia’s Inquiry has now heard from former child migrants who were sexually abused and our Inquiry is to do the same.
The Goddard Inquiry will invite adults who were transported to Australia and Canada as children to come forward and share their stories of what happened to them once they were taken from their families in England, and before they travelled to Australia and Canada. This part of the emigration programme involved not just the State, but the Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic churches, the Church of England, Barnardo’s and the Salvation Army as well. During this period it is believed that many children were sexually abused before leaving to go abroad.
As well as inviting survivors of the emigration programme to come forward and send in submissions to the Inquiry, the Inquiry Panel would also love to see some of these survivors apply for Core Participant Status within the Inquiry, so their voice can be properly heard and highlighted. You can read a little more about Core Participant Status here. Due to the age of many of these survivors, the Inquiry is fast tracking this portion of its work and hopes to hold a preliminary hearing in July.
Researching Reform is glad that this particularly dark chapter in England’s history is being included in the Inquiry’s remit, and we wish the panel luck and a firm resolve to uncover the truth.
Children cheer as they leave London for Australia in 1932. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images