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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

Physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and poor education

17. Many of the witnesses described experiencing severe and regular physical abuse and punishment at the hands of staff and older children. For example, Michael Hawes said his experiences at Dhurringile were better described as torture than abuse”, saying that he was locked in a place known as ‘the dungeon’ for punishment, occasionally without food or water for days.[1] David Hill described “public thrashings” in the village hall.[2] One former child migrant who had been under the care of the Sisters of Nazareth, Michael O’Donoghue, described “misery, fear and brutality” at one Nazareth Home.[3] He recalled that he and the other children “would cry and cry and cry and cry”, and also being thrown down the stairs by a nun as punishment for a transgression, leaving him unconscious.[4] CM-A20 told us of the “backbreaking work” he was forced to carry out by the Christian Brothers and we heard testimony from several others that echoed his account.[5] 

18. Many of the witnesses described psychological abuse such as being called “guttersnipe” and being told they were not wanted. Mr O’Donoghue described an incident in which the Christian Brothers killed a horse particularly loved by the children in their care as a form of collective punishment for an alleged wrongdoing, forcing a group of 15 children to watch the killing.[6] 

19. Several witnesses described trying to escape the abuse they were experiencing: Edward Delaney said he tried to kill himself at the age of 12,[7] and CM-A3 described running away on numerous occasions and then being sent back to a Fairbridge school.

20. Many witnesses referred to constant hunger, medical neglect and receiving very poor education, the latter having lifelong consequences in several cases. Although our Inquiry focuses solely on sexual abuse, the accounts of physical and emotional abuse, neglect and poor education provide an essential context for our understanding of the experiences of child migrants.



  1. Hawes 2 March 2017 102-103.
  2. Hill 8 March 2017 87-89.
  3. O’Donoghue 3 March 2017 107.
  4. O’Donoghue 3 March 2017 19.
  5. CM-A20 2 March 2017 22.
  6. O’Donoghue 3 March 2017 124-129.
  7. Delaney 7 March 2017 95-96
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