More than 2,000 surviving British child migrants who suffered sexual abuse after they were sent abroad decades ago must now be compensated, former prime minister Gordon Brown has said.
Mr Brown, who was giving evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, had issued an apology to victims on behalf of the UK in 2010.
He said the government should explain why nothing has been done since then.
Across 50 years, 130,000 children were sent to ex-colonies such as Australia.
The transportation programme began in the 1920s, partly to ease the population of the UK’s orphanages in the years after the First World War, and to give “lost” children the chance of a new life in Britain’s colonies.
But children continued to be be sent abroad until 1974.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales has already heard that many child migrants experienced “unacceptable depravity”, with some having been sent abroad without the consent of parents and wrongly told they were orphans.
In 2009, the Australian government apologised for the cruelty shown to the child migrants.
The experiences of the children sent away from the UK is being looked at as part of the first phase of the wide-ranging inquiry into child abuse..
Mr Brown said he had become aware of so many historical cases he described as “grave, horrifying and sickening” and said there had been a “violation of human rights”.
He described the transportation programme as a “modern form of government-enforced trafficking”.
“Children were denied a childhood, an identity, a family and any sense of belonging,” he said.
“Many, some as young as three – and this was happening as recently as the 1970s – were sent abroad having been falsely told their parents were dead.”
He said the “sheer scale” of sexual abuse “could be worse than in the Savile scandal” and said successive governments had failed in a duty of care.
“Because we failed in our duty of care it is now time to compensate the 2,000 child migrants still alive,” he said.
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The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse
- The inquiry into historical child sex abuse in England and Wales is to examine claims made against local authorities, religious organisations, the armed forces and public and private institutions
- Momentum for the inquiry started with the Jimmy Savile scandal
- The inquiry is expected to take about five years to complete
- The first phase of the inquiry will consist of 13 separate investigations
Mr Brown added: “My apology seven years ago was for the gross inhumane violation of rights by forcibly removing children, depriving them of identity, family and any sense of belonging.
“An unknown but clearly large number of these children were subjected to horrific assaults sometimes before, sometimes during but in the main after they left the UK.
“Because successive governments failed in what I call their duty of care, these 2,000 surviving migrants all need and deserve redress.”
Mr Brown told the inquiry that 1,000 families had been reunited since 2010.