What humans do to children

Today a headline drew my gaze.

Bodies of 800 children found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers

Most of the media, main and social, is awash with either the federal budget or the Victorian political “crisis”. Yet here is a story to break anyone’s heart.

John Dunphy

John Dunphy and comrade, WWII

The fate of unwed mothers and their children. In Ireland. Between 1925 and 1961. My father (the dark-haired one above) was the son of an Irish mother, but born in New Zealand. An unwed mother. If the family had not emigrated, perhaps this would also have been my father’s fate. As it was my grandmother was “sent away” to give birth.

More than five decades after the Home was closed and destroyed … what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has now emerged: Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank sitting in the back of the structure and forgotten, with neither gravestones nor coffins. Source: dailylife.com.au

Just dumped. How many were murdered? Even if they “died”, how many died due to neglect? I wrote a while ago how ready first world countries are to criticise third world countries over corruption. We always consider ourselves so much “better”. Yet here I am related to people who were dumping children in a septic tank. Is it any wonder we in Australia have needed the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

I cannot comprehend the fate of unwed mothers and their children in those times. I just can’t. The treatment of those poor children is criminal. How could the nuns possibly have considered it was Christian to do this? “Suffer not the little children to come unto me.” I’m an atheist, but in this case I almost hope those children did find a heaven, for clearly their life on earth was hell.

Yet we have a government that wants to spend our money putting chaplains in state schools. I’m not going into that debate because the wonderful Chrys Stevenson has been writing absolutely brilliantly on the topic. A good place to start is Of Krauss, Clowns and Chaplaincy. Chrys also wrote a wonderful series on Ron Williams High Court case and a great article on School Chaplains – Making Disciples

I have been busy sharing the writing of Chrys far and wide, to the extent she threatened to appoint me her agent. I just agree with her work on this so much, I want to share her writing as widely as possible.

The terrible, terrible kidnapping of the Nigerian girls by the Boko Haram is an atrocity at the hands of a madman, about which little has really be done, as discussed by Bina Shah, the award-winning Pakistani writer from Karachi. Yet here were nuns, not so long ago, dumping children in a septic tank.

There are wonderful people who are also religious. Beautiful, caring humanists. Someone said to me the other day, such people would be good people without religion. The humanist in them, he said, is despite their religion, not because of it. All I know is actions speak louder than words.

A rose for the forgotten children

A rose for the forgotten children


15 comments on “What humans do to children

  1. […] Arabian ban on women driving is nonsense.  Yet in Australia we have a Royal Commission into the abuse of children by various bodies, not one of them Islamic as far as I know. None of this makes your co-worker, […]


  2. safer to identify zealotry or dogma as a cause rather than religion per se: people seem so susceptible to one or another set of assumptions, along with unquestioned ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ that legitimises the most terrible misdeeds. Nationalist fervour is another kind of zealotry that produces awful crimes against children – for example in the case of the Biak massacre in West Papua. And, as another example, assumptions of superiority of a particular kind of civilisation that legitimised misdeeds on a vast scale during white settlement of Australia. Dangerous any time we stop questioning, due to religious faith or some other kind: in case we trade compassion, the attempt to empathise, self-doubt – all of which are guides for a well-tuned moral compass – for the righteousness and piousness of some inviolable internal logic.


    • You are right David. Zealotry and dogma. Yet in my experience zealotry and dogma are often related to religion. There are cases unrelated, based in other beliefs, but I question whether a religion has to be based around a god. A belief in the superiority of a civilisation can also be almost a religion. But this is your field of expertise, not mine. 🙂

      Either way, definitely agree it is dangerous any time we stop questioning. Or believing anything too fervently.


  3. There’s a film about some of the Irish women who were sent away to these places after they were forced to give their babies up. The 2002 film caled The Magdalene Sisters. It is haunting and disturbing to think of these things that were allowed to happen.


    • Hopefully we are now truly more enlightened, yet the need for our Royal Commission tends to suggest not yet. In other nations worse still.

      Cruelty towards children is incomprehensible.


  4. I despair at some of the things the human race does to his fellow man, there is no excuse, and especially when babies and young children are involved.


  5. My mother was set away to the nuns to give birth – to me! and in England not Ireland.


  6. But there’s always religion, isn’t there? From Boco Haram to Irish nuns, it’s always the excuse. Because it is faith itself which is the dangerous concept. Instilling faith in a person is like formatting your hard drive. It is now clear to accept anything you want to program it with. Whichever operating system you wish to install.


  7. What awful deeds some people are capable of!! And not so long ago either, how could this have been hidden for such a long time?


  8. Good article Robyn much food for thought.

    I do so doubt that the poor 800 innocent babies did not died naturally. So very sad.

    Religion seems to turn, some people into thinking they are Gods of this world to do and get away with EVIL. In the name of religion.

    My god, is in me and other good people. Through the good we do on this earth for the good of others not for self and evil of this world in the name of Religion…


    • Thank you Maureen. I know we have many people of faith following and I try to show I recognise many many people of faith are wonderful people. Many of no faith are terrible. Good and bad everywhere.

      I have a problem when bad is institutionalised, as this was. As you say, getting away with EVIL in the name of religion.

      So terribly sad.


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