On 20 June 2000, on the motion of Senator Andrew Murray, the Senate referred the issue of child migration to the Community Affairs References Committee for inquiry and report. An estimated five to ten thousand child migrants from both Britain and Malta came to Australia between1922 and 1967, most of whom were sent to charitable and religious institutions. Many child migrants later claimed that they were ill-treated in the institutions to which they were sent. The resulting report 'Lost innocents: righting the record - inquiry into child migration' was tabled on 30 August 2001.
During the 1980s and 1990s, details of the history of a unique group of children who had been in care in Australia were gradually coming to light. That group was child migrants from both Britain and Malta.
Between 1922 and 1967 about 150 000 children with an average age of eight years and nine months were shipped from Great Britain to help populate the British Dominions of Canada, Rhodesia, New Zealand and Australia with 'good white stock'. Estimates of the number of children sent to Australia vary from 5 000 to 10 000, most of whom were sent to charitable and religious institutions. The Australian Government welcomed the scheme and encouraged non-government organisations such as Barnados and Fairbridge to continue settling child migrants who were regarded as adaptable with long working lives. However many child migrants later claimed that they were ill-treated in the institutions to which they were sent.
In the 1980s and 1990s, a number of books were published on child migration, its history, the impact on the lives of former child migrants and the stories of individuals who were migrated to Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Child migration was also the topic of the television documentary Lost Children of the Empire, broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) in 1989 and the mini-series The Leaving of Liverpool, broadcast by the ABC in 1994. These publications led to a growing awareness and understanding of the history and issues surrounding child migration.
The terms of reference for the inquiry into child migration were as follows:
Child migration to Australia under approved schemes during the twentieth century, with particular reference to the role and responsibilities of Australian governments and to the issues listed in the following paragraphs:
1. in relation to government and non-government institutions responsible for the care of child migrants:
2. whether any unsafe, improper, or unlawful care or treatment of children occurred in such institutions, and
(ii) whether any serious breach of any relevant statutory obligation occurred during the course of the care of former child migrants;
(b) the extent and operation of measures undertaken or required to assist former child migrants to reunite with their families and obtain independent advice and counselling services;
(c) the effectiveness of efforts made during the operation of the child migration schemes or since by Australian governments and any other non-government bodies which were then responsible for child migration to:
(i) inform the children of the existence and whereabouts of their parents and/or siblings,
(ii) reunite or assist in the reunification of the child migrants with any of their relatives, and
(iii) provide counselling or any other services that were designed to reduce or limit trauma caused by the removal of these children from their country of birth and deportation to Australia;
(d) the need for a formal acknowledgment and apology by Australian governments for the human suffering arising from the child migration schemes;
(e) measures of reparation including, but not limited to, compensation and rehabilitation by the perpetrators; and
(f) whether statutory or administrative limitations or barriers adversely affect those former child migrants who wish to pursue claims against individual perpetrators of abuse previously involved in their care.
The report 'Lost innocents: righting the record - inquiry into child migration' was tabled on 30 August 2001.
Prepared by: Lee Butterworth
Created: 27 February 2012, Last modified: 9 January 2014