Survivors detail care abuse ordeals

Nazareth House, Derry. Pic: Google Maps

Children from the North who were sent to Australia shortly after the Second World War faced grave sexual and physical violence after arrival in institutions, witnesses have told a public inquiry.

Survivors have given graphic details of their ordeals while aged as young as five, according to the chairman of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry established by ministers in Belfast.

Approximately 130 young children in the care of religious voluntary institutions or state bodies became child migrants, most in the decade after the war.

The experiences of around 50 of them will be examined in person or via video- link and their statements furnished to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia.

Inquiry chairman Sir Anthony Hart said: “In their witness statements, many of those who will give evidence describe their experiences after they arrived in Australia in shocking terms, setting out in graphic detail their descriptions of the severe hardships, and grave sexual and physical violence, to which they say they were subjected as children in the institutions to which they were sent in Australia.”

The inquiry is limited to what happened to children in institutions in Northern Ireland and does not have the power to investigate what befell migrants in Australian institutions.

Sir Anthony added: “That does not mean that their accounts of their experiences in Australia will be swept under the carpet. I want to assure them that will not be the case.”

More than 1,000 children from the UK were sent to Australia in the 1940s and 1950s, most by religious orders, like the Catholic Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers, which ran care homes.

Some were orphans, but others were not and in some cases the children were told they had no living relatives to ensure they did not try to return, survivors have said.

A team of experts from the inquiry has travelled to Australia to take submissions from some of those affected.

The treatment of young people, orphaned or taken away from their unmarried mothers, in houses run by nuns, brothers or the state is a key concern of the retired High Court judge’s inquiry which is being held in Banbridge, Co Down, and was ordered by ministers in the devolved power-sharing Executive at Stormont.

The panel is considering cases between 1922, the foundation of Northern Ireland, and 1995.

Documentation examined by the inquiry has revealed that between 1946 and 1956 children were sent from various institutions in Northern Ireland to institutions in Australia as part of a UK government policy of child migration.

Their evidence is expected to last three weeks.

The panel has to decide whether children might have been physically or sexually abused or emotionally harmed through humiliation. Harm may also include simple neglect, not feeding or clothing people properly.

The inquiry has heard a litany of allegations from former residents at Derry homes run by Sisters of Nazareth nuns, including that children were made to eat their own vomit and bathe in disinfectant.

They claimed they were beaten for bedwetting and had soiled sheets placed on their heads to humiliate them, witnesses told public hearings earlier this year.

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