LONDON, Feb 27 — England’s mammoth inquiry into historical child sex abuse held its first public hearings today, hearing of the “torture, rape and slavery” suffered by child migrants shipped to Australia.
The wide-ranging Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse opened by looking at the scheme that sent thousands of vulnerable children to far-flung parts of the Commonwealth.
David Hill broke down as he told the inquiry of the “endemic” sexual abuse at the school he was sent to in Australia.
“I hope this inquiry can promote an understanding of the long-term consequences and suffering of those who were sexually abused,” he said.
“Many never recover and are permanently afflicted with guilt, shame, diminished self-confidence, low self-esteem and trauma.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May set up the giant inquiry in July 2014 when she was the interior minister.
The probe started today by looking at the child migration programmes, in which some 150,000 children were sent abroad, according to a 1998 parliamentary study.
To cut the cost of caring for lone children and to meet labour shortages in the Commonwealth, youngsters were sent to Australia, and also Canada, New Zealand and what is now Zimbabwe, between 1945 and 1970 — often without the consent of their families.
But the promise of a good upbringing and an exciting new life in the sun was often, in reality, a world of forced labour, brutal treatment and sexual assault in remote institutions run by churches and charities.
“They sent us to a place that was a living hell,” victim Clifford Walsh told the BBC.
Aswini Weereratne, of the Child Migrants Trust which supports victims, said there was good evidence that Britain knew of the poor standards of care in Australian institutions but failed to respond.
“Some of what was done there was of quite unacceptable depravity. Terms like sexual abuse are too weak to convey it,” she said.
“This was not about truly voluntary migration, but forced or coerced deportation.”
Some children were said to have suffered “torture, rape and slavery”.
The hearings are being held at the International Dispute Resolution Centre in London. The opening phase, dealing with Australia, is expected to last 10 days.
The inquiry was established following revelations that Jimmy Savile, a popular television presenter, was in fact one of Britain’s worst serial paedophiles, who carried out abuse unchecked in a range of public institutions.
The inquiry will look at a range of institutions in England and Wales, including schools, hospitals, children’s homes, local authorities, religious organisations, the BBC, the armed forces and charities, among others.
It will also examine allegations involving famous people in politics and the media.
The inquiry got off to a rocky start with the first three chairs stepping down. — AFP