Political or religious authorities effectively taking ownership of children, for their own ends, is something which happened in a number of countries during the 20th century. And we’re not talking Nazi Germany or the Stalinist Soviet Union here: we’re talking about countries such as the UK and Australia. Examples include Native American children being removed to state boarding schools, the “Stolen Generations” of Aboriginal children removed from their families in Australia, Inuit children in Greenland being taken away to Danish-language orphanages or Denmark itself, the Magdalene Laundries in the Republic of Ireland, babies being taken away from parents deemed politically suspect in Franco’s Spain and Videla’s Argentina, and, the subject of this programme, the Child Migrant Scheme in which children were sent from British orphanages to Australia. The idea of the programme was to prevent the children from being a drain on the British authorities, and to boost the “White Australia” policy which aimed to bring in white migrants. So it worked for both countries – just not necessarily for the children and their families.
I’m never entirely sure about “Long Lost Family”. There may be many painful reasons why a child was given up for adoption, and that’s not something which should necessarily be used as entertainment – although I suppose that, unless both parties agreed, the programme would never be shown. In this case we did see children who’d been sent from Britain to Australia joyfully reunited with their families, but we also heard the harrowing tales of the abuse which some of them had suffered in religious orphanages once they’d arrived Down Under.
One man learnt that his parents had been unable to marry as his father had already had a wife, from whom he’d been separated from many years but whom he was presumably unable to divorce under the system at the time, and that his mother had been forced to give him up and his father, when seeking custody of him, had been told that he’d already compromised a young woman and that he should leave both her and their child alone. Another man, who’d tried desperately to contact his brothers, learnt that his letters to them and them to him had been intercepted, leaving him thinking that they no longer wanted contact with him.
It was just very sad all round. It was lovely to see those involved meeting up with relatives, but, after so many years, some of those involved had died before they could be reunited, and the abuse inflicted on children in orphanages is hardly something which can ever be undone. Adults are supposed to take care of children, and indeed of vulnerable adults, and using children to further political or economic ends is just horrific, and physical and sexual abuse of children by those trusted to care for them is even worse. As I’ve said, I’m not sure that people’s family issues should necessarily be used for entertainment purposes on TV, but, in this case, the programme drew attention to a very unpleasant episode in the history of the UK, Australia and other Commonwealth countries. Interesting and sometimes heartwarming, but also deeply distressing.