A STAIN ON OUR SOCIETY; UK Apologises for Forced Migration of 150,000 Children

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Byline: JASON BEATTIE

IT has been described as one of the crimes of the 20th century.

For decades, Britain shipped tens of thousands of poor children to a so-called better life in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other former colonies.

Many ended up in institutions, suffered appalling abuse or were forced to work as slaves. Some were plucked from care homes in the UK and wrongly told their parents were dead.

The programme only ended in 1967 and some 150,000 British children are thought to have been sent overseas.

Now Gordon Brown is to make an official apology for previous governments' roles in the shameful programme.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: "It is a stain on our society. This happened for hundreds of years with governments around the world, particularly in the 1950s and the 1960s. I think it is important we say to the children who are now adults, and to their offspring, that this is something that we look back on in shame. It would never happen today.

"But I think it is right that as a society when we look back and see things which we now know were morally wrong, that we are willing to say we're sorry."

The programme dates back to the early 19th century and at its peak in the pre-Second World War years as many as 17,000 children a year were being sent from Europe to Australia.

Up to 30,000 UK youngsters are thought to have been shipped to Australia alone in the 20th century. Even after 1945, 7,000 were sent there and 1,300 to other colonies.

The Church of England, the Catholic Church and Salvation Army all played a role.

The Child Migrants Trust said many children were treated as slaves. Founder Margaret Humphreys revealed: "Most were told they were orphans. This was untrue. Many ended up experiencing physical, sexual and emotional abuse."

Mr Brown has written to Kevin Barron, the chairman of the health select committee, saying he will issue the apology in the New Year.

He wrote: "It is important we take the time to listen to the voices of the victims of these misguided policies. …