Publish date: 28 Sep 2023

Today, Thursday 28 September, Lady Smith has published the second volume of her findings concerning the practice of children being migrated from Scotland.

Lady Smith, Chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry

Successive governments failed to end abusive child migration policy

The first volume was published in March this year and concluded that the whole system of child migration was abusive. Also, it resulted in many children being abused. It included detailed accounts provided by former child migrants of their experiences of being in care in Scotland prior to migration, their experiences of being migrated and what they experienced at their destinations.

The second volume of findings explores the history of child migration, the policies, systems and legislation under which it operated, and the responses of various organisations to questions about their involvement in child migration schemes.

Lady Smith, Chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry said: “My findings in volume 1 alone show clearly that, however well-intentioned some of those who advocated for child migration may have been, the policy of child migration and the systems under which it operated were deeply flawed.

“The second volume of findings reinforces this view.

“What is particularly striking is the failure of successive UK governments to terminate the practice of child migration; these governments must bear the brunt of the blame for the continuation of child migration policies.

“Successive UK governments supported the practice. That support began with legislation that recognised the potential of child migration as a means of populating the Dominions. And pressure came from receiving countries, such as Australia, which badly wanted to increase its population with white “stock”.

“I reject without hesitation any notion that any conclusion that the policy was deeply flawed is the product of a view that distorts the past by viewing it through the lens of today.

“It is obvious that it was deeply flawed at the time.”

Over 100,000 children were migrated over a century, from the 1860s onward. It is not possible to say how many of them originated in Scotland, but well over 8000 children had been sent from Scotland to Canada by the 1920s and some were sent after that.

At least 370 children were sent to Australia from Scotland over significant periods both pre- and post-Second World War.

The findings also conclude:
  • The organisations in Scotland involved in child migration were, in the main, voluntary organisations and they pursued practices that failed children. Selection practices were defective, they were based on false promises, and the organisations were deceitful when it came to obtaining consents. Post-migration monitoring, if it existed, was sporadic. Aftercare, in the very few cases where it happened, was far from robust.
  • The Catholic Church endorsed child migration in a way that had very significant impact and cannot be overstated. That endorsement then reassured Catholic organisations that, in migrating children overseas, they were doing something that was morally acceptable. However, in no way does that diminish the duty that was incumbent on those organisations to act in the best interests of children in their care, and to implement systems that ensured the best interests of children were protected. That they failed to do so.
  • The history of child migration practice shows that political considerations and the preservation of relationships with powerful people and/or organisations conspired to influence governments and override such reservations about children’s welfare that were ventilated by government – those reservations were, ultimately, ignored.
  • Concerns expressed by various officials within and outwith the Scottish Office were not acted upon. This was a serious failure on the part of government in its duty of care to children in care.
  • The flaws inherent in child migration policy were evident from at least the late 19th century. The Doyle report, published in 1875, clearly flagged up the dangers associated with child migration. Its author, Andrew Doyle, identified failures that continued to bedevil the policy throughout its long history, including poor selection processes, inadequate monitoring, and defective or non-existent aftercare. That message was repeated time and time again. Criticisms were levelled at the policy and its practices by those with knowledge and understanding of what the proper care of children required. Serious faults had been found in the way that much of the institutional care in the UK was operating – under which little or nothing was being done to promote the welfare of children. That system of institutional care was condemned, as explained in the Clyde and Curtis reports - yet child migration practices largely followed that outdated model.
  • The highly critical report of the Ross fact-finding mission in 1956 ought to have been a fatal blow to the child migration policy, but even in the face of it the policy subsisted until the early 1970s with children continuing to be sent by means of an abusive system to abusive regimes.
  • When the practice of child migration did peter out, this was because of a lack of supply: it had little to do with any formal state intervention.
  • The UK Government has apologised for its involvement in child migration. A redress scheme has been introduced. For those who have died, these responses come too late. 
  • Many former child migrants spoke of the pain associated with child migration—for many, it has been and is a permanent pain. 

Lady Smith said: “This inquiry could not have achieved this important work in relation to child migration without invaluable contributions not only from applicants and their families but also from many here in the UK and abroad who gave of their time, skills, and efforts tirelessly.

“My grateful thanks are extended to all for their assistance and co-operation.