Child migration

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Child migration is the migration of children, without their parents, to another country or region.[1] In many cases this has involved the forced migration of children in care, to be used as child labour.


During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Aboriginal Australian children were removed from their families and placed in institutions and foster homes, in what became known as the Stolen Generations.[2]

130,000 children were migrated to Australia under assisted child migration schemes from Great Britain alone, with a small number from Malta. Child migrants were adopted or brought up in children's homes, institutions, orphanages or foster care. A large portion of these children were used in slave labour by the churches in Australia. Many of these children experienced neglect and abuse while in institutional care.

In November 2009 Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd formally apologized to "Forgotten Australians" and child migrants on behalf of the nation.[3][4] "Forgotten Australians" is a term the Australian Senate has used to describe children who were brought up in orphanages, children's homes, institutions or foster care in Australia. Child migrants are a specific group of "Forgotten Australians".[5]


Child migration was a phenomenon associated with the migration of Bulgarian market-gardeners to Austria-Hungary in the second half of 19th and early 20th Century, due to the use of child labor (mostly boys) in market-gardening. Child labor brought master gardeners the biggest profit since children did not get paid but worked as apprentices for their keep only. Younger children helped in the gardens and learned gardening skills, while those who were already physically strong performed specialized gardening activities. Different patterns of child migration can be distinguished based on the autobiographies and personal life stories of market-gardeners: children who migrated with their market-gardening parents as a family or those of market-gardeners who were born abroad; children who migrated with one of the parents (usually the market-gardening father) or with relatives of the market-gardening father so as to “learn the craft”; children who migrated with their market-gardening parents as a family, then the parents returned to their homeland with the younger children, while the older child was left abroad to work “on a garden” and make his own living, thus supporting his family financially.[6]


The Canadian Indian residential school system, founded in the 19th century, was intended to force the assimilation of the Aboriginal peoples in Canada into European-Canadian society.[7] The last residential school was closed in 1996.[8] On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized, on behalf of the sitting Cabinet, in front of an audience of Aboriginal delegates, and in an address that was broadcast nationally on the CBC, for the past governments' policies of assimilation.[9] In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sorrow at "the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church" and offered his "sympathy and prayerful solidarity".[10]


310 children were emigrated from Malta to Australia between 1950 and 1965 under the ‘Child Migration to Australia Scheme’ following an agreement between the Australian Catholic Immigration committee and the Emigration and Labour Minister on 9 December 1949.[11] Most of the Maltese children sent to Australia under this scheme came either from government orphanages or Church children’s homes and all were said to have left with their parents’ consent. The Australian government had offered to welcome Maltese boys, aged between eight and 11, and girls aged between five and 10 years into Catholic institutions and promised to offer them employment supervised by the responsible Catholic authorities.[11] One of these children became a priest and many others embarked on a career though many grew up hurt knowing that their parents had consented to their departure from home.[11] The Maltese emigrants were included in the Australian Prime Minister's 2009 public apology to those who suffered abuse at the hands of their carers in institutions, orphanages and foster care.[11]

United Kingdom[edit]

Main article: Home Children

The practice of sending poor or orphaned children to the English settler colonies, to help alleviate the shortage of labour, began in England in 1618, with the rounding-up and transportation of 100 vagrant children to the Virginia Colony.[12] Prior to the second half of the twentieth century, the Home Children programme was seen as a way to move impoverished children to a "better life" in Australia, Canada and elsewhere, also providing good "white stock" to former colonies. The children and parents were not consulted, and often siblings were separated.[13] In total 130,000 children were sent from the United Kingdom to Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and Australia. Often children were lied to about their parents being dead and many faced abuse in their new homes.[3] In February 2010 British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown issued an official apology for the 'shameful' child resettlement programme and announced a £6 million fund designed to compensate the families affected by the "misguided" programme.[14] The Child Migrants Trust has since set up the Family Restoration Fund in order to use this money to help reunite former child migrants with their families as part of the British government's package of support to former child migrants and their families.[15]

During the Second World War, some 3.5 million children were evacuated from areas at risk of aerial bombing to rural locations.[16] (see Evacuations of civilians in Britain during World War II.)

A study completed in 2012 by the University of Oxford's Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) led by Dr Nando Sigona has shed light on the situation of children with no right to live in the United Kingdom.[17] The study, 'No way out, no way in: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK', estimates a population of 120,000 children without status, of whom 65,000 were born in the UK to parents with no right to live in the country.

United States[edit]

During the 19th century there were a number of attempts to move children from crowded east coast cities to midwestern and western rural families & orphanages. Most famous was the orphan train movement.[18] Additionally Native American children were separated from their families & sent to boarding schools to force them into assimilating western culture.[19]


During the Second World War, when Finland was at war with Russia, about 70 000 Finnish children were transported by train and boat mainly to Sweden, but also to Norway and Denmark. These children are commonly referred to as war children. By the end of the war, thousands of children were adopted by their "new" parents.


  1. ^ Anon. "Independent child migration". CMRN main themes. Child migration Research Network. Retrieved 21 November 2009. 
  2. ^ Read, Peter (1981). The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal children in New South Wales 1883 to 1969 (PDF). Department of Aboriginal Affairs (New South Wales government). ISBN 0-646-46221-0. 
  3. ^ a b Anon (16 November 2009). "Australia 'sorry' for child abuse". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 17 November 2009. 
  4. ^ PMs apology
  5. ^ Adoption & Forgotten Australians - Child Migrants
  6. ^ Peykovska, Penka, Child Migration, Child Labor and School Attainment. Evidence from the Bulgarian Community in Hungary (Late 19th to the 1930s)
  7. ^ "Alberni School Victim Speaks Out". First Nations Drum. Archived from the original on July 26, 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  8. ^ "A timeline of residential schools". CBC. 2008-05-16. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  9. ^ PM cites 'sad chapter' in apology for residential schools -, June 11, 2008. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  10. ^ Communique of the Holy See Press Office. 29.4.2009. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  11. ^ a b c d Attard, Elaine. "Australian PM apologises for child abuse". The Malta Independent online. Standard Publications Ltd. Retrieved 17 November 2009. 
  12. ^ "A child migration timeline". The Goldonian. Goldonian Web. Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  13. ^ Child Labor By Sandy Hobbs, Jim McKechnie, Michael Lavalette p. 33, 34)
  14. ^ Ralph, Alex (24 February 2010). "Gordon Brown sorry for 'shameful' colonial child resettlement programme". The Times (Times Newspapers Ltd). Retrieved 26 February 2010. 
  15. ^ Anon. "Family Restoration Fund". Child migrants Trust. Child Migrants Trust. Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  16. ^ Anon. "Home page". The Evacuees Reunion Association. The Evacuees Reunion Association. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ Torigoe, John (24 December 2008). "He rode the 'Orphan Train' across the country". CNN. 
  19. ^ Andrea Smith, "Soul Wound: The Legacy of Native American Schools", Amnesty Magazine, Amnesty International website

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