United Kingdom abuse inquiry investigates treatment of Commonwealth children

Public hearings have begun in the United Kingdom for an inquiry into the sexual abuse of possibly thousands of British children sent overseas from World War I until the 1970s.

New Zealand is among the Commonwealth countries being examined in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

They're looking at child migration programmes - where youngsters in state care were shipped off to British colonies.

Many of them endured "unacceptable depravity", victim David Hill told the inquiry.

"What the UK inquiry is going to discover is that it takes decades for people to be able to confront and admit they were sexually abused," he said.

"Many never recover and are permanently afflicted with guilt, shame, diminished self-confidence, low self-esteem and trauma."

Mr Hill is the first victim to address the inquiry. He was 12 when he went to Fairbridge Farm School in Western Australia in 1959.

Victims were 'ritually' beaten with belts, canes or hockey sticks at Fairbridge Society homes and schools, the Daily Mail reports.

"The UK Government has acknowledged that children were mistreated in child migration programmes," the IICSA background statement says.

"In 2010, then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, made a public apology to former child migrants... However, to date, no public inquiry in the UK has undertaken a sustained and specific analysis of allegations of sexual abuse of child migrants and possible failings by institutions based in England and Wales in relation to that abuse."

The inquiry was initially headed by New Zealander Dame Lowell Goddard, who resigned abruptly after just 18 months in the role.

Dame Lowell was heavily criticised for refusing to appear before a committee of MPs looking into the work of the troubled inquiry, despite receiving almost £500,000 (NZ$840,500) yearly in pay and allowances while she was its chair.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee report said Dame Lowell's failure to appear in front of it was "disgraceful".

The inquiry had been beset by problems since it was set up in 2014. It's now onto its fourth leader, and has been slammed as an "unpalatable circus" by one of the largest victims' groups involved.