Financial recompense for former child migrants remains an arbitrary patchwork

After the announcement today that the UK Government is opening its redress scheme for those sent overseas as part of the UK child migration programmes, Professor Gordon Lynch, an expert on such schemes, comments on the ‘symbolic gesture‘, but adds more needs to be done by the voluntary organisations.

‘Following the recommendation of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) to establish such a scheme, in recognition of the Government’s systemic failures to protect children sent overseas through these programmes, payments of £20,000 are to be made to any former child migrant still alive when the Inquiry made this recommendation on 1st March 2018.

‘The redress scheme inevitably raises complex questions about what it means to offer some restitution for historic abuse. The amount of £20,000 is intended as a symbolic gesture of remorse, and is clearly not equivalent to the level of compensation that might be expected for the forms of lasting physical and psychological harm to which many former child migrants were exposed.

‘Some have received other redress payments, depending on the organisations and Australian State to which they were sent, or through individual claims to organisations which sent them. More than two hundred former child migrants sent to the Fairbridge Molong Farm School have also been able, after a long court battle, to win the largest class action in Australian legal history for historic institutional abuse for their treatment at that institution.

‘But financial recompense for former child migrants remains an arbitrary patchwork, in which there are no guarantees that individuals who have experienced significant physical and sexual abuse – or had their lives shaped by the poor education offered by overseas institutions – will be properly compensated.

‘There are doubtless lessons to be learned from our country’s treatment of former child migrants. A substantial body of material relating to the abuse of former child migrants was first presented to the UK Government in 1998 through a report produced by the House of Commons Health Committee.

‘To have waited a further 20 years before these were considered by a fuller public inquiry – by which time many former child migrants had died – must surely encourage us to respond in a more timely way to other such cases in the future. Whilst the IICSA process has led to the establishment of a Government redress scheme, questions remain about the responsibilities of many voluntary organisations involved in this work to also provide some form of restitution.

‘Although some have made individual compensation payments – often of limited amounts – their systemic failures have not led to them either setting up their own redress schemes or apparently contributing to this Government initiative. Too often voluntary organisations – including religious bodies – have offered expressions of regret when the spotlight of a public inquiry is on them, but with little action taken by them after this.

‘Providing restitution for historic abuse is always imperfect, always incomplete. Financial compensation should rightly play a part in this, but should also be part of larger responses including public apologies (which genuinely shape future organisational attitudes), personal support to survivors, and a greater willingness on the past of organisations involved to allow critical scrutiny of their work and to reform their organisational cultures where needed. Whether former British child migrants will be satisfied with today’s announcement about redress, the process of offering restitution for their suffering is on-going.’

Gordon Lynch, Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern Theology in the School of European Culture and Languages at Kent, was an advisor to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), and co-authored a report into child sexual abuse in child migration schemes for the Inquiry. He is a member of the School of European Culture and Languages.

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