Brown apologises to abused child migrants
Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised today for the UK's role in sending thousands of its children to former colonies where many ended up in institutions or as labourers on farms.
The Child Migrants Programme, which ended 40 years ago, sent poor children to a "better life" in Australia and elsewhere but many of those sent away said they were physically, emotionally or sexually abused.
Speaking on GMTV, Mr Brown said the scheme, which ran from the 1920s to the 1960s, ruined the lives of many people.
"I have to apologise on behalf of a policy that was misguided and it happened right up until the 1960s. You will see when you meet people who have been affected by this, it has ruined many of their lives," he said.
"It has certainly changed their lives in a way they should never have expected."
Under the scheme, an estimated 150,000 poor youngsters aged between three and 14 were sent to Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada but many ended up being abused in foster homes, state-run orphanages and religious institutions.
Children were often told their parents were dead, while parents were given very little information about where their offspring were going.
Survivors said that on arrival they were separated from brothers and sisters, and often subjected to brutal physical and sexual abuse by those who were meant to be caring for them.
Mr Brown revealed his intention to apologise for the actions of previous governments in November, shortly before Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd offered his own apology to the thousands of British migrants who were abused or neglected in state care.
In a letter to Keith Barron, the chairman of the health select committee which looked into what happened, Mr Brown said: "It is important that we take the time to listen to the voices of the survivors and victims of these misguided policies."
Britain's High Commissioner to Australia, Baroness Amos, said in a statement last week that the apology would be an "important milestone".
"Over the past few months I have met many whose lives were blighted, and heard their personal stories," she said.
"We want not just to bear witness to the past but to look forward to a future where these terrible events will not be repeated."
Harold Haig, secretary of the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families, said: "For many former child migrants and their families, the apology will help to heal a painful past."
The wording of the apology by Mr Brown is believed to have been discussed with charities representing former child migrants and their families.
Forty survivors have flown to London so they can listen to Mr Brown's formal statement at Westminster later today in person.
Mr Brown is also expected to make an announcement about future support for those affected.
Mr Rudd, speaking to a gathering of 1,000 victims known as the "Forgotten Australians" in Canberra in November, said: "We are sorry. Sorry that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused.
"Sorry for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.
"Sorry for the tragedy - the absolute tragedy - of childhoods lost."
He said the Australian government wanted the national apology to become "a turning point in our nation's story".
Mr Rudd said it was "an ugly story" and a "great evil" had been done.