Sorry, but we are still abusing children

Fairbridge Farm School in Molong, New South Wales.  Photo: APAustralian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to former orphans and child migrants who suffered a lack of love and care -- if not outright abuse -- highlights another chapter in the heartrending story of children treated as chattels by enlightened and progressive nations last century. Sadly, it is a story that is still being written.

Last year Mr Rudd apologised to Australia’s “Stolen Generation” of Aborigines, taken from their families to be raised in institutions and white homes under assimilation policies. Earlier this year we had the official report on child abuse in Irish institutions. Now it’s the Forgotten Australians -- 7000 to 10,000 children living in British institutions because their parents were dead or too poor to support them. They were shipped out from Britain between 1930 and 1970 to begin a “better life”, but often placed in households or institutions where they suffered all kinds of deprivation and abuse and were exploited as a cheap workforce. Thousands of others shared a similar fate in Canada and other Commonwealth countries.

In another awful twist to this story, hundreds of babies and older children in institutions were used as “lab rats” in medical research, according to a report in the New Zealand Herald (Nov 22 print edition only). A Melbourne University official apologised last week to “those children whose personal rights were infringed by these experiments”. Researchers were trying to develop vaccines to prevent epidemics of herpes simplex, whooping cough, influenza, polio, measles and rubella. In an interview in 1997 one of the researchers involved, Dr Norman Wettenhall, said: “It was not a mistake at the time, but only a mistake by today’s standards.”

Certainly, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it is difficult to absolve professional people working at a time when the Nazi experiments and other horrors of the first half of the 20th century had produced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and when the Nuremberg Code (1947) had already ruled out experimentation without consent -- and therefore on children.

It does go to show, doesn’t it, that scientists and governments have a tendency to ignore human rights and individual wellbeing when they have their sights set on some public health or social goal. Isn’t that what all the official meddling in sex and fertility is about -- the legalised abortion, government funded contraception, government mandated sex education, and confidential “reproductive health” services for minors?

As I said, the story of child abuse is still being written.


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