LONDON – Britons who were sent overseas as poor or orphaned children under state-approved programs in the decades after World War II are suing the British government over the abuse and neglect they suffered, their lawyer said Wednesday.
In March a child-abuse inquiry ordered the government to compensate 2,000 survivors of programs that sent children to countries including Australia, Canada and Southern Rhodesia — now Zimbabwe.
The survivors are the last wave of some 150,000 children sent to Britain's then-colonies starting in the 17th century. The programs were intended to ease pressure on British social services, provide the children with a fresh start and supply the empire with a sturdy supply of white workers. But many children ended up in institutions where they were physically and sexually abused, or were sent to work as farm laborers.
The British government took over primary responsibility for the policy after World War II and did not end it until 1970.
Lawyer Alan Collins, who represents more than 100 survivors, said the government had not yet taken any action to offer redress. He has filed papers at London's High Court, seeking to force the government to provide compensation.
Collins said the surviving child migrants, scattered around the globe, were elderly and their numbers "are sadly reducing."
He said setting up a compensation scheme is "not rocket science."
"If the government had the will, it would have done so by now," Collins said.
"I'm hoping that common decency and humanity will kick into play and the U.K. government will do right by these people."
Then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized in 2010 for the "shameful" and "misguided" child migrant program.
The Department of Health said it accepted the child migrant policy had been wrong, and was "committed to providing a timely response to the inquiry's recommendations."