(CN) – Members of two Catholic religious orders trafficked in children for decades, taking poor kids from their parents in Britain and Malta and promising to educate them in Australia, then putting them to a life of forced labor and physical and sexual abuse, according to a federal class action in Manhattan.
Three former “child migrants” say the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the Order of the Sisters of Mercy took subsidies from the British, Australian and Maltese governments for the children’s upkeep and education, but kept the money for themselves and gave the children nothing save hardship and pain, forcing them to beg for scraps of food and root around in pig troughs for sustenance.
The children say the religious orders took them from their homes under false pretenses and forced them into a horrific life of unending work, ignorance, violence and rape.
Emmanuel Ellul, one of the named plaintiffs, says he was 14 when the Christian Brothers took him from Malta to Australia, ostensibly to be educated and returned to his family in a few years.
On arriving, however, Ellul says he became a “working boy” on commercial farms controlled by the Brothers, where he was fed “starvation” rations, separated from his siblings, his birth certificate and his passport, and subjected to “conditions amounting to slavery.”
Ellul, now in his 60s, says the Christian Brothers told him his parents were dead, and he was beaten if caught speaking his native Maltese – though the Brothers refused to teach him English.
Australian officials estimate that as many as 10,000 “child migrants,” some as young as 3 years old, emigrated from Britain to Australia between 1947 and 1967, many without the consent of their poor and absent parents. More than 300 children were taken from the British colony of Malta and forced to become “working boys,” according to the complaint.
In 2001 the Australian government released a report acknowledging that “the vast majority of child migrants were not orphans, that many were taken without parental consent and were subject to forced child labor on a massive scale in commercial contexts doing extremely arduous or backbreaking work of an adult nature,” the complaint states.
In November 2009, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology to the child migrants for the abuse they suffered.
“Sorry – for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost – childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places, where names were replaced by numbers, spontaneous play by regimented routine, the joy of learning by the repetitive drudgery of menial work,” Rudd said.
“Sorry – for all these injustices to you, as children, who were placed in our care. As a nation, we must now reflect on those who did not receive proper care. We look back with shame that many of you were left cold, hungry and alone and with nowhere to hide and nobody to whom to turn.”
The class, including named plaintiffs Ellul, Valerie Carmack and Hazel Goulding, sued the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the Order of the Sisters of Mercy, alleging child trafficking, forced child labor, slavery, unjust enrichment and other charges. They want a jury trial and unspecified damages.
They are represented by H. Rajan Sharma and Neal DeYoung of New York, N.Y.