Victorian Britain was a dirty, impoverished place full of slums, and, at the time, the country was overrun with poor children who had to be supported by charities. In addition, at a time before child labor laws, children as young as three years old were sent to the factories to work, which created another issue: child wage slavery. To solve the problem of child slavery in factories, Britain’s Home Children Program shipped orphans and poor children overseas to the commonwealth countries of Rhodesia, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Between 1869 and 1967, as many as 150,000 children were sent abroad as part of the child migrants programme.
But the colonies weren’t any better for the children. Just like children who worked in coal mines, the Home Program children were put to work on farms in horrible conditions. They were beaten and abused and sometimes even murdered – the children sent to Australia became known as the forgotten Australians. The children might have escaped factories and orphanages, but life as a child laborer on a farm was equally horrific.
The sad truth is that many of these children weren’t even orphans at all. Parents were forced to give up their children, like a woman who was forced to sell her children, simply because they didn’t have enough money to care for them. And in many cases, the Home Children Program lied to children as young as four, telling them their families were dead and separating siblings – all in the name of saving money.