Sexual violence: a report overwhelms the NGO SOS Children's Villages
According to a very damning report published on Wednesday 7 June and commissioned by the director of the NGO upon her arrival in 2021, SOS Children's Villages – present in more than 135 countries – has covered up many cases of sexual violence and corruption since the 1980s.
A member of the NGO SOS Children's Villages comes to the aid of a boy at the Madre Assinta Institute, a shelter for migrant women in Tijuana, Mexico, July 13, 2019. © Eduardo Jaramillo Castro / AFP
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When she arrived at the helm of SOS Children's Villages in 2021, its Executive Director Ingrid Johansen set out to "repair the mistakes of the past" and scramble to restore donor trust. An independent audit was then tasked with shedding light on a series of cases of abuse that had arisen within the structure, founded in 1949 in Austria to help orphans and children who did not receive adequate care from their families.
The ten members of the commission of inquiry consulted thousands of archival documents and conducted nearly 200 interviews. Two years later, the result is a 262-page report, absolutely damning for the NGO, reports our correspondent in Vienna, Isaure Hiace. It confirms allegations of abuse of minors in several countries. According to the report, "numerous cases of child pregnancies" resulting from rape have been documented, with girls undergoing "forced abortions". The report also points to intimidation of victims and whistleblowers, and deplores "a desire to protect the organization" above all. Evidence was destroyed and the authorities kept in the dark.
Culture of fear » in Panama
The serious deficiencies identified by the investigators concern several countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In Nepal, a generous donor was welcomed into a centre, "against the rules", and sexually abused children between 2010 and 2014. One of them was even sent to Austria to visit him. In Panama, where the commission notes a "culture of fear", one victim was forced to retract before being placed in solitary confinement and then having to leave the premises. Investigators also confirmed significant deficiencies in Cambodia, Kenya, and Sierra Leone.
Syria is also mentioned in particular: since 2015, the NGO has welcomed children forcibly separated from their families belonging to the opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. SOS Children's Villages was one of the few NGOs left behind during the war. Ingrid Johansen says that these children "are now reunited with their loved ones and none of them are part of our programs anymore". More recently, the Russian branch of the NGO was suspended after the revelation in the press of accusations of taking care of Ukrainian children probably "deported" by Moscow. "As this is a serious allegation, the measure will remain in place until we are 100% sure that everything is in order," said the director.
Beyond cases of abuse, the document details a "significant number" of embezzlement, abuse of power, irregularities in the awarding of contracts sometimes involving "millions of dollars".
SOS Children's Villages shows its willingness to overhaul everything at the global level: a post of defender of rights has been created, more than half of the members of the management have been replaced and the reception centres have been strengthened. Around 500 victims received individual, psychological, logistical or financial support. But "despite numerous reform initiatives, the transformation has not been fully implemented," the report laments, with some "standards of the old structure hindering the work of the new leadership."
>> Read also: Sex scandals at Oxfam: what consequences on the image of NGOs?
And with AFP)
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- Rights of the child