Quebec orphans who say they were abused in church-run programs under the reign of former premier Maurice Duplessis have agreed to millions of dollars in compensation.

The offer, unanimously accepted in principle Saturday, is based on a flat payment of $10,000 per person, plus an additional $1,000 for each year of wrongful confinement more than half a century ago.

It works out to about $25,000 per orphan roughly half of what they had asked for.

When the settlement was first proposed by the government June 20 critics called it far too low.

But the province said there would be no negotiation, which prompted the "Duplessis orphans" to agree to take a little money now rather than try to fight for more, according to spokesman Bruno Roy.

He denied media reports that a committee representing the orphans had initially rejected the deal more than a week ago.

Quebec Premier Bernard Landry was unapologetic over the amount being offered.

"It was done in the spirit of compassion," Landry told a news conference Saturday.

"It was the acceptance by our society of a sombre episode in our history," he added. "The recognition of it, the compensation of it materially. Even though you cannot really compensate anything totally."

The "Duplessis orphans" have been pleading for money and an apology from the government for almost a decade. Most of them were poor or illegitimate children sent to church-run psychiatric institutions in the 1940s and 1950s so that the orphanages could qualify for extra federal aid.

The youngsters, who were not actually mentally ill, said they were beaten, sexually abused, and subjected to horrors like electroshock therapy and lobotomies.

About 3,000 of the orphans are still alive. Many of them live in poverty and have psychological problems.