The Inquiry is examining historical abuse allegations
Vulnerable British children shipped overseas in a long-running migration programme were exposed to "unacceptable depravity" including torture, sexual abuse and slavery, an inquiry has heard.
Thousands of children, many of whom were in care, were relocated to distant corners of the British empire over hundreds of years in part to populate it with "white, British stock".
A case study of the "shameful history" is being examined in the first public evidence session of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, focusing on the post-war period.
The far-reaching probe is to scrutinise 13 institutions ranging from local authorities to the army for child protection failings, including abuse claims against prominent public figures.
Failure to act on the reports of abuse abroad meant the UK government was complicit in a "systematic and institutional problem", a representative of one victim told the hearing.
Another former child migrant broke down as he recalled the "endemic" problem of sexual abuse at the school he was sent to in Molong, Australia.
David Hill said: "I hope this inquiry can promote an understanding of the long-term consequences and suffering of those who were sexually abused.
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"Many never recover and are permanently afflicted with guilt, shame, diminished self-confidence, low self-esteem and trauma."
Australia was the main destination for the majority of the children between 1945 and 1970, many of whom were taken from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The child migration scheme was branded "forced or coerced deportation" by one campaigner.
Aswini Weereratne, of the Child Migrants Trust, said they hoped the evidence to be heard would reflect several points, adding: "There is good evidence the UK government and agencies knew in the 1940s and 50s of the poor standards of care in Australian institutions and in some instances about sexual abuse.
"Secondly that the Government failed to respond to stop child migration until it fizzled out in 1970.
"Third, that it took 50 years before this shameful history was scrutinised by a parliamentary committee."
She added: "It is impossible to resist the conclusion that some of what was done there was of quite unacceptable depravity. Terms like sexual abuse are too weak to convey it.
"This was not about truly voluntary migration, but forced or coerced deportation."
At the start of the hearing, counsel to the inquiry, Henrietta Hill QC, said: "In those institutions or schools, child migrants have given evidence they were subject to extremely harsh conditions, hard labour and physical abuse by those responsible for their welfare.
"In addition, there are allegations of widespread and systematic sexual abuse taking place in those institutions, or some of them.
"You are likely to hear very emotional accounts from former child migrants of the decades of pain they have caused.
"The UK government provided partial funding for the child migration scheme, approved the residential institutions and was responsible for consenting to the migration of children sent from local authority care."
The inquiry will be the first major domestic investigation into the abuse claims, following an apology to child migrants from prime minister Gordon Brown in 2010.
The abuse that some of the children sent abroad were said to have suffered included "torture, rape and slavery", Ms Weereratne said.
She added: "Boys and girls experienced a range of assaults, all manner of indecent assaults from inappropriate touching, masturbation, oral sex and then rape and buggery."
The child migration programmes are a case study which is part of the inquiry’s protection of children outside the United Kingdom investigation.
The taxpayer-subsidised scheme was said to have been justified by the government as a means of slashing the costs of caring for lone children and meeting labour shortages in the colonies.
Mr Hill said: "We will never be able to undo the great wrong done to these children but what is important to survivors of sexual abuse is, where this inquiry is satisfied with the evidence, to name the villains.
"Many of them are beyond the grave and are therefore beyond the law but it would bring a great deal of comfort to the people who as children were victims of these people if they were named and shamed."
Speaking on behalf of former child migrant Oliver Cosgrove, who was sent to Australia in 1941, Imran Khan said: "(It was) a scheme to populate the empire with good, white British stock and which led to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of countless children, many thousands of miles away from their families.
He added: "Those who were abused tried in vain to tell others, who they hoped and believed might assist them. But they didn’t.
"The fact that they knew and the fact that they didn’t do anything and the fact that the witness statements are so similar in the accounts they give of abuse can mean only one thing: this was a systematic and institutional problem."