On Monday 27 February, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse begins its first public hearings. These relate to sexual abuse in the British child migration programmes and the institutional failings of organisations based in England and Wales.
The child migration programmes are a case study which is part of the Inquiry’s Protection of Children Outside the United Kingdom investigation.
The child migration programmes were large-scale schemes in which thousands of children, many of them in the care of the state, were systematically and permanently migrated to parts of the British Empire by various institutions in England and Wales, with the knowledge and approval of the British Government. Most were sent to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and what was then Southern Rhodesia, modern-day Zimbabwe. In 2010, the UK Government issued an apology for its role in the child migration programmes.
The Inquiry will hear from a number of former child migrants who have alleged that they suffered sexual abuse in relation to their migration in a range of institutions and contexts. The Inquiry will also hear evidence from expert witnesses about the history and context of the child migration programmes and from the Child Migrants Trust, which supports former child migrants. A further public hearing is scheduled for July when the Inquiry will hear evidence on behalf of institutions and others involved in the child migration programmes.
For witnesses giving evidence in person or by videolink whose identity is protected by the Restriction Orders, the hearing room will be cleared and members of the press and public will be able to follow the evidence from the annex. All that will be broadcast is the audio of the witness’s voice.
The public hearings are about examining institutional failures by organisations in England and Wales, not finding individuals guilty or innocent. Further investigations may be announced as the Inquiry progresses.