Child migrants - a little more history

Posted by Yvonne Barlow on Wednesday, October 5, 2016
I've been a little bit obsessed by child migration recently. This is due to the fact that I've been editing Listen to the Child, a novel which tells of British children shipped out to Canada in the 1870s and distributed as indentured labour to farmers there, and reading The Lightless Sky by Gulwali Passarlay, a contemporary autobiography of a young Afghan boy sent to Europe with people smugglers.
Both books shine light on children far from home with no parent to care for them.
Gulwali is sent from Afghanistan by his mother when he is only 11 - a stark fact. However, we must understand her dilemma - her child is being recruited to work for both the Taliban and the US forces and both options are likely to result in death. Gulwali's mother is brave and desperate beyond belief.
Elizabeth Howard, author of Listen to the Child, took much of her research from the archives of charities, newspapers and letters. The charities who took children across the Atlantic and left them in the care of strangers believed they were doing the right thing - saving the children from the temptations of sinful, starving London and taking them to Canada's wide, open farms. "A Garden of Eden," some called it. "A land of milk and honey," said others.
However records show that the children were often mistreated, with farmers telling children that they were so worthless even their own parents didn't want them. Elizabeth said she read cases of farmers charged with manslaughter and often being found not guilty by a jury of their peers. Perhaps because the children were brought in such abundance and given away so freely, the Canadian farmer felt they were of no value.
Reading this novel has made me wonder if other European nations sent their orphans out to their colonies?
France sent young women to take up the role of wives to young Frenchmen posted in its colonies. The ages of these women - 12-19!
Portugal also sent young virgins to South America and Goa in an effort to keep its regions Portuguese.
The Jesuits took young male orphans to the Americas because they believed the young learned languages faster. They put these young boys with Native American tribes to learn the language and act as interpreters. 
However, I would love to know more. If you have information, please contact me: editor@hooklinebooks.com


Tags: "child migration" "the lightless sky" "gulwali passarlay" "listen to the child" "elizabeth howard" 
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Yvonne Barlow Editor at Hookline Books - where book clubs and readers choose the novels that go to print.

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