Glasgow & West Scotland

Abuse inquiry: Quarriers admits child migration was 'misguided and wrong'

emigrant children Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Many children's homes and charities adopted the practice of sending orphan children abroad to start new lives

Children's charity Quarriers has admitted sending children abroad was "misguided and wrong".

The organisation has issued an apology to the thousands of children it sent to Canada and Australia, and to those who then suffered abuse.

More than 7,000 children were emigrated by the Quarriers organisation between 1872 and 1938.

The announcement came as phase five of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry began in Edinburgh.

The latest stage of the inquiry, led by Lady Smith, will examine the alleged abuse of children who left Scotland for other countries, mainly Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The Scottish and UK governments are among those due to give submissions.

In 2010, former prime minister Gordon Brown apologised on behalf of the country for the Child Migrant Programme.

'We apologise'

Evidence is expected later in the week via video-link from former child migrants now living overseas.

Alice Harper, chief executive of Quarriers, said: "We apologise to children migrated through Quarriers and to children who suffered abuse following migration.

"While people and organisations - including Quarriers - believed at the time that the UK government's international migration scheme offered the chance of a better life, it was misguided and wrong.

"Vulnerable children were sent away and we recognise that some also suffered physical and emotional abuse, including sexual abuse."

Image copyright Nick Mailer
Image caption Lady Smith is leading the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry

The charity now works to help migrant children and their families trace their roots and access records.

On behalf of Quarriers, Claire Mitchell QC read an opening statement to the inquiry.

It said: "The emigration of children was one of William Quarrier's aims when establishing his work for the poor children of Glasgow. In fact, migration was such a focus that the name of the organisation is recorded in the first narrative of facts in 1872 as the 'Orphan and Destitute Children's Emigration Homes'.

"The initial intention of migration was to provide the chance for a perceived better life away from the overcrowding and poverty of Scottish cities. It was part of William Quarrier's philosophy that the organisation should arrange for children to be emigrated to Canada to allow the opportunity for more children to be cared for at the homes in Scotland."

The charity has acknowledged that some migrant children suffered cruelty and abuse, and that there were shortcomings in the systems that were used to facilitate migration.

It said it remained committed to assisting the inquiry with its work and welcomed the opportunity to hear the evidence of survivors and others.

'A better life' for Glasgow's orphans

Image copyright Quarriers
Image caption The central building at Quarrier's village in the 1920s

Quarriers was founded in 1871 by philanthropist William Quarrier, a successful merchant who had started his working life at the age of seven as a pin maker.

His objective was to provide a better life for children who were destitute or whose parents were no longer able to care for them.

Mr Quarrier sent his first party of children to Canada in 1872. Between 1872 and 1938 Quarriers arranged for more than 7,000 children to be sent there.

The majority of these children were sent to Quarriers' Canadian receiving centre Fairknowe in Brockville, Ontario, and then on to farms. Under twelves were adopted and worked as part of the family to earn their keep. Older children were indentured and paid a small wage for their work.

A smaller number were sent to Australia.

Child migration programmes remained sanctioned by the government as recently as the 1960s.

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