Sunday, August 30, 2009

Australian Prime Minister to apologise for care home abuse of British children

From Times Online August 30, 2009

Australian Prime Minister to apologise for care home abuse of British children
Anne Barrowclough in Sydney

Thousands of Britons who suffered abuse in Australian orphanages and care homes are to receive an apology from Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister

Mr Rudd will follow his historic apology to Aborigines last year with a similar apology to child immigrants and Australian children who were place in state care during the last century.

Jenny Macklin, the Families and Indigenous Affairs Minister, announced the apology eight years after a 2001 Senate report on child immigration recommended the government of then Prime Minister John Howard express its regret for the sexual, emotional and physical abuse suffered by hundreds of thousands of children in institutions and foster care.

Ms Macklin said the level of abuse and neglect had been ''unacceptable'' and it was time to issue a formal apology, which would probably take place before the end of the year.

''Many former child migrants and other children who were in institutions, their families and the wider community have suffered from a system that did not adequately provide for, or protect children in its care,'' said Ms Macklin.

"This is a significant national step in the healing process for forgotten Australians and former child migrants," she added.

Between1922 and 1967 up to 10,000 children with an average age of eight years old, were taken from unmarried mothers, impoverished families and orphanages in Britain and sent as migrants to Australia to boost its population and labour force with ‘good white stock’.

With the support and encouragement of organisations such as the Salvation Army and Barnardos, children were removed from their familes - often told their parents had died - and sent thousands of miles away to a life of starvation, slave labour and sexual abuse.

As soon as they arrived at an insitution they were given a number which replaced their name, and dressed in rags - shoes became an almost unheard of luxury. They were uniformly fed rotting food - "maggoty, mouldy, weevilly," a former child migrant described it in a submission to the 2001 inquiry while another said "the freshest part of the food actually moved."

Beatings with straps, canes and even cricket bats were common as was sexual assault. In some Christian Brothers institutes, small boys were forced into bestial acts.

Many of the institutions farmed the children out to industrial laundries and local farms as slave labour and even into the 1970s, hundreds of children and babies as young as seven months old were used as guinea pigs for new vaccines that did not work or failed to pass safety tests in animals.

The 2001 inquiry found that the long term impact was almost uniformly negative; drug and alcohol abuse was common and many former inmates of the institutions found it impossible to hold down jobs or marriages.

The announcement that Mr Rudd will apologise for their years of hell has been welcomed by the Alliance for Forgotten Australians which represents those who suffered in state care.

Caroline Carrol, chairwoman of the AFA, said: "As children, many of us experienced horrors in the places that were supposed to care for us," she said.

"As adult survivors, we need acknowledgment of and an apology for the harm that was done to us.

"The apology is an excellent beginning to what we hope will be a comprehensive government response," she added.

One of Mr Rudd's first acts as Prime Minister after his election victory in November 2007 was formally to apologize to Aborigines for injustices suffered since British colonists arrived 200 years ago.

In particular, the apology was aimed at the generation of Stolen Children who had been removed from their Aboriginal mothers under former government policies of assimilating mixed-race children into white society.

That apology, which received international acclaim, revived interest in the non-indigenous children who also suffered without the protection of parents.

The latest apology, which may be delivered jointly by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, follows both the 2001 Senate committee report and a second inquiry in 2004 which found abuse was also widespread among the 500,000 plus Australian children placed in care.

The government will table its formal response on the issue before the end of the year and has promised to consult further within the community on the path ahead.

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