Australia to Apologize for State Care of Children

By: Rod McGuirk AP Email
By: Rod McGuirk AP Email

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - Australia's government will follow its historic apology to Aborigines last year for past injustices with a similar apology to child immigrants and Australian-born children who suffered in state care during the last century, a Cabinet minister said Sunday.

Families and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin announced the apology Sunday on the anniversaries of Senate reports on child immigration in 2001 and on Australian children raised in institutions in 2004.

Both reports recommended that the government of then Prime Minister John Howard apologize for the abuses and assaults that many suffered in institutions and foster care.

The report on child immigration, titled Righting the Record, 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 in the last century. It could not determine the actual number because of scarce records.

The second report, titled Forgotten Australians, found that more than 500,000 Australian children were placed in foster homes, orphanages and other institutions during the 20th century. Many were emotionally, physically and sexually abused while in state care, it said.

"By the end of 2009, the Australian government will issue a formal statement of acknowledgment and apology, on behalf of the nation, to Forgotten Australians and former child migrants," Macklin said in a statement.

"Many former child migrants and other children who were in institutions, their families and the wider community have suffered
from a system that did not adequately provide for, or protect children in its care," she added.

One of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's first acts in Parliament after his election victory in November 2007 was to formally apologize to Aborigines for injustices during the more than 200 years since British colonists arrived.

The apology, approved by Parliament in February last year, had been recommended in 1997 by a government-commissioned report into past policies of assimilating mixed-race children into white society by removing them from their Aboriginal mothers.

That apology was lauded internationally. It also revived interest in non-indigenous children who also suffered without the protection of parents.

Caroline Carrol, chairwoman of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians which represents those who suffered in state care as children, welcomed the apology as a turning point.

"As children, many of us experienced horrors in the places that were supposed to care for us," she said. "As adult survivors, we need acknowledgment of and an apology for the harm that was done to us."

"The apology is an excellent beginning to what we hope will be a comprehensive government response," she said.


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