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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

What should child migration institutions in England and Wales have known about sexual abuse?

7. Within the various reports from the child migration era that specifically address the policy of child migration, even the highly critical Ross report, there is very little that explicitly or even impliedly references sexual abuse. It is therefore right to ask whether sexual abuse was even identified during that era, and, if it was, how it was referred to and whether it was recognised as something that was wrong. These questions are a necessary context for answering what a child migration institution at that time should have known about sexual abuse.

8. It is clear to us that during the child migration era, sexual abuse was not described, discussed or understood in the way that it is now.

9. However, we have seen documents from that time which were clearly describing what nowadays we would refer to as sexual abuse: these include references to adults having had “immoral relations[1] or “interfered[2] with child migrants, to adults engaging in “fooling”,[3]indiscreet fondling[4] or “serious sexual malpractices[5] with the children, to a “really rather bad case of sodomy between a teacher and boys[6] and to “philandering conduct towards girls[7] and “trouble” between some school teachers and girls who were aged 13 and 14 at the time (which related to the teachers being prosecuted for having “carnal knowledge” of the girls).[8]

10. We are therefore satisfied that if a child migrant was being sexually abused, there was indeed the language available to describe it, although it was different from the language which would be used today.

11. Sexual abuse of children has always been morally wrong. However, it is clear that, before and during the post-War child migration period, the law saw fit to criminalise child sexual abuse as legally wrong, and to make provision for the protection of children from such abuse. In this respect we note, for example, that:

a. protecting the “virtue” of young girls and punishing their violators had been identified as a priority as far back as the late nineteenth century (the age of consent having been raised from 13 to 16 in 1885);

b. the Act for the Prevention of Cruelty to, and Better Protection of, Children 1889 criminalised the “wilful ill-treatment” (namely treatment “in a manner likely to cause such child unnecessary suffering, or injury to its health”) of a boy under the age of 14 or a girl under the age of 16, and made provision for the police to intervene when such treatment was suspected;

c. the Children Act 1908 provided that any person could bring before the court a child who was the daughter of a man convicted of sexual offences (and such a child could be committed to an industrial school), a child who frequented the company of prostitutes[9], and/or who was living in a place used for prostitution or otherwise in circumstances calculated to “cause, encourage, or favour the seduction or prostitution of the child”;

d. by 1924, when the Parliamentary Departmental Committee on Sexual Offences against Young Persons reviewed the operation of various sexual offences in existence at the time, reference was made to the offences of indecent assault on a male person under 16, indecent assault on a female person under 16, and “defilement” of girls under 13, or between 13 and 20; and

e. the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 sought to combine all child protection law into a single piece of legislation, and this was followed by further consolidating legislation such as the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Indecency with Children Act 1960.[10] 

12. Moreover, it is clear that there was at least some enforcement of these legal provisions: an analysis of criminal justice statistics suggests that well over 1,000 persons a year were found guilty of sexual offences against minors in England and Wales between the wars, increasing to over 4,000 by the 1960s.[11] Furthermore, the experts referred us to various occasions on which the press reported matters relating to child sexual abuse, both before and after the War.[12]

We are satisfied that the evidence summarised above gives us sufficiently broad context.

In light of this evidence, we have concluded that during the period of migration with which we have been concerned, there was a general understanding within society that child sexual abuse was morally wrong and unlawful, and that steps should be taken to protect children from it and respond when it occurred.

We consider that sending institutions did share or should have shared this general understanding.

13. It is clear to us that the sending institutions did not explicitly or systematically consider what steps were needed to protect children from the risk of sexual abuse.

14. However, there are several indications that some such steps were in fact being taken or considered within the England and Wales education and care sectors, such as the following:

a. in 1909 the Board of Education referred to a duty to preserve a “strict standard of morality among teachers” and, as a priority, the need to “think much more of the welfare of the children than of the teacher”;

b. at the time of the First World War, state school teachers would have to return their teaching certificates if found guilty of sexual misconduct;

c. in 1946, the Curtis Report referred at paragraph 147 to the undesirability of children and adults in a mixed workhouse occupying the same yards;

d. in 1952 the Home Office required that if the manager of an approved school faced an allegation of sexual abuse, they had to report the matter to the Home Office and the police rather than deal with the matter themselves;

e. in 1954 there was discussion of how to prevent men convicted of sexual offences from teaching in private schools; and

f. in 1957 there was consideration of a proposed public register of convicted sexual offenders against children as well as women.[13] 

15. Moreover, as we explain in greater detail in the institution-specific sections of Part C, we have seen various examples from within the child migration context of the sending agencies and/or their linked organisations overseas taking steps in relation to sexual abuse, even if it was not described as such. These include the following:

a. in 1889, once Barnardo’s UK became aware that Alfred Owen (who ran their receiving home in Canada) had been convicted of sexual interference with girls in his care, it sent out a female senior manager to investigate the facilities, and this led to a recommendation that locks should be put on bedroom doors and chaperones provided when girls were in vulnerable situations;[14]

b. in 1940, Mr Beauchamp (Principal at the Fairbridge school at Molong, Australia) was told to resign after allegations that he had failed to prevent or intervene in “immoral and perverted practices....on a serious scale”;[15]

c. in the early 1940s Mr Rogers (a Duties Master at the Fairbridge school in British Columbia) was dismissed following allegations of improper behaviour, then re‑hired, but dismissed again after he was convicted of “immoral relations” with Fairbridge boys and imprisoned;[16]

d. in 1958, once Barnardo’s UK and HMG became aware of a range of allegations of sexual abuse at the Barnardo’s school at Picton, Australia, they suspended all migration to the school, the General Superintendent of Barnardo’s UK travelled to Australia, he co-operated with a local child welfare investigation, and migration was not restarted until the issues had been addressed;[17] and

e. from 1947 to 1968, the ‘Common Rules’ that applied to the Christian Brothers order included rules that Brothers were not permitted to have particular friendships with pupils, touch pupils on the face or otherwise fondle them or allow boys into their room.[18] 

This evidence, added to the more general societal evidence referred to above, reinforces our view that sending agencies did know or should have known of the risk of sexual abuse, and that this was something in relation to which an organisational response was required.




  1. PRT000150_003.
  2. PRT000303.
  3. INQ000170_001-010.
  4. BRD000105_002.
  5. BRD000105_001.
  6. Constantine 21 July 2017 125-127; PRT000597_003.
  7. CMT000387_007-009.
  8. The “trouble”: EWM000372.
  9. Unless the prostitute was the child’s mother and she was taking appropriate action.
  10. Constantine 21 July 2017 150-156; EWM000455_016-019, at paras. 2.4-2.7 and 2.11; A History of Child Protection Law and A Timeline of Key Legislation on the Protection of Children from Sexual Abuse in England and Wales (two documents prepared by Counsel to the Inquiry and disclosed to the Core Participants at INQ001305 and INQ001306). We note that Australian criminal law made similar provision: H. Boxall et al (Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, 2014), Historical Review of Sexual Abuse Legislation in Australia: 1788-2013, which was considered by the Australian Royal Commission:
  11. EWM000455_016, at para. 2.4.
  12. See, for example the press reporting of the post-War increase in recorded ‘sex crimes’; of a British Magistrates Association/ British Medical Association report on how such sexual offence cases should be tried and on how offenders should be punished (1949); and of an acknowledgement in Parliament by the Home Secretary that while the rate of increase in recorded sexual offences was in decline, four out of five victims were children (1958): EWM000455_019, at para. 2.12. We have also considered three History and Policy papers written on issues relating to child sexual abuse and cited by Professors Constantine and Lynch at EWM000455_016. These are papers written by expert historians, based on peer-reviewed research, as follows: (i) Louise A. Jackson, Child sexual abuse in England and Wales: prosecution and prevalence 1918-1970, 18 June 2015; (ii) Lucy Delap, Child welfare, child prosecution and sexual abuse, 1918-1990, 30 July 2015; and (iii) Adrian Bingham and Louise Settle, Scandals and silences: the British Press and child sexual abuse, 4 August 2015.
  13. Constantine 21 July 2017 157-158; EWM000455_018-019, at paras. 2.8, 2.10 and 2.12.
  14. Clarke 13 July 2017 30/1-8
  15. Constantine 12 July 2017 93-101 and 133.
  16. See section C.2.2 below for further consideration of the incidents involving Mr Rogers.
  17. See section C.2.1 below for further consideration of the Picton issues.
  18. EWM000064_034
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