Children Abandoned and Betrayed by the Church and State

25/02/2013 13:16 GMT | Updated 26/04/2013 10:12 BST

How could virtually a whole society divest themselves of their moral responsibility for some of their most vulnerable citizens by handing over thousands of women and children to the Catholic Church to be kept in servitude in the Magdalene laundries? As we now know this happened in Ireland.

One woman who suffered this fate explained that she got there after her father died and her mother re-married when she was 12 years old.

Maureen Sullivan is the youngest known survivor admitted to one of the Magdalene laundries - she was sent to the Good Shepherd Laundry in New Ross, Co Wexford. She recalls being worked all day in the laundries and fed on bread and dripping and was hidden in a tunnel when school inspectors came to call - suggesting that those abusing her knew they were doing wrong. On the weekends she was made to clean the local Church instead of going to school.

She was but one of thousands of women and girls abused in this way.

For seventy years, thousands of women and girls - unmarried mothers, victims of sexual abuse and other young girls in care were sent to these work houses run by Catholic nuns. Only recently has the Irish Prime Minister apologised for part the Irish authorities played in this.

But this was not the only example of children being abandoned by their own community and sent off to face abuse and forced labour - Britain sent thousands of children abroad - to Canada: Australia and other parts of the Commonwealth as cheap labour and to populate these countries with 'good white stock'. The implicit (or explicit) racism deserves attention.

One such destination has become infamous - Bindoon Boy's Town - which was run by the Catholic Christian Brothers. The children were virtual slaves and suffered years of hard labour and were in many cases sexually abused.

These terrible stories do not just involve religious groups who might otherwise claim to be our moral guardians: the State played a pivotal role.

These children were terribly let down by their Governments who surely had a duty to protect and nurture them in their own communities. All of these children were entitled to grow up to become adult citizens entitled to participate in their society but instead they were betrayed by the State and by their own communities and sent off to the 'care' of strangers to be abused and enslaved. Who were these callous people who thought this was acceptable?

One element all these cases share is that no one was looking out for the interests of these children - their families did not - those entrusted with leadership in their countries did not - no one cared for them enough to prevent them suffering abuse. Wasn't it likely that those that abused them knew that their victims could not turn to anyone to help them and knew they could inflict pain and suffering on them because no one else cared?

I am sure it was not just people claiming religious privilege that abused and let down these most vulnerable youngsters but I wonder if those careless authorities were duped into thinking that nuns and so called 'brothers' could be trusted. I mean you have to respect religion right? Or perhaps - just as likely - the authorities did not care.

Surely openness and honesty is the only way we can stop this sort of thing happening in the future and surely we should be ashamed that it happened at all in so called civilised countries.

There is no evidence of children being shipped abroad or placed in the care of corrupt religious establishments these days, but thousands of children in care in the UK continue to be abused. It is the same old problem - no one to look for them - no one to care for them and plenty of people preying on them.