Britain plans to issue an apology Monday for child migrant programs that shipped as many as 150,000 poor British children to Canada, Australia and other former colonies over a period of three and a half centuries.
The British government said Sunday that Prime Minister Gordon Brown would apologize for the programs, which were intended to give children of struggling families a new start, but also saw many suffering abuse and neglect thousands of miles from home.
Many of the children were sent to work on farms, while others ended up in institutions where they were physically and sexually abused.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered his own apology Monday for his country's role in the child migrant programs.
At a ceremony in Canberra, Rudd also extended condolences to the 7,000 survivors of the programs who still live in Australia.
"We are sorry," Rudd said. "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."
The British government has estimated that 150,000 children may have been shipped abroad between 1618 — when a group was sent to the Virginia Colony — and 1967, most of them from the late 19th century onwards.
100,000 sent to Canada
About 100,000 children were sent to Canada before the program officially ended in 1939, according to Home Children Canada's website.
Britain continued to send children to Australia and South Africa until 1967, the group said.
Sidney Baker, a member of the organization, said Sunday that he's also expecting an apology from the Canadian government.
Baker, who lives in Sidney, B.C., said the victims and their families have never asked for compensation from the Canadian government, only for an apology.
A 2001 Australian report said that between 6,000 and 30,000 children from Britain and Malta, often taken from unmarried mothers or impoverished families, were sent alone to Australia as migrants during the 20th century.
Many of the children were told that they were orphans, though most had either been abandoned or taken from their families by the state. Siblings were commonly split up once they arrived in Australia.
Sandra Anker, who was six when she was sent to Australia in 1950, said the British government has "a lot to answer for."
"We've suffered all our lives," she told the BBC. "For the government of England to say sorry to us, it makes it right — even if it's late, it's better than not at all."
In 1998, the British government announced it was setting up a fund of $2.6 million to pay for trips to reunite former child migrants with their families in Britain.
At that time, it did not offer an apology for the programs, but did call the scheme "misguided." However, it also said further compensation would be inappropriate.