SOS Children’s Village apologises over child abuse, corruption

Children playing in one of the SOS centres.[Courtesy]

The SOS Children’s village has apologised for what it terms as "failures to prevent children from being abused."

The non-governmental organisation on Thursday said it regrets cases of failings and is immediately introducing new measures to support victims, prevent further harm, and improve existing systems, to consistently ensure quality care for all children in its programmes. 

The Standard has established that the apology comes after private investigators unmasked rampant cases of child abuse, corruption and breaches to protect the children's rights.

According to a senior official in one of the Kenya-based SOS's the NGO hired private investigators and dispatched them to all of its centres across the 137 countries.

The official who sought anonymity said the investigator's reports are damning that prompted the management to issue the public apology.

The NGO in a statement on its website said it has informed its donors and governments that its highest supervisory body, the International Senate, has instructed that an independent Special Commission be established to address past and contemporary cases of failings, including child abuse, corruption, misuse of funds, and breaches of regulations that protect children’s and employees’ human rights. 

The Commission will investigate why the failures occurred, while in other instances the organisation’s policies and processes were appropriately followed through.

"It will be established under the leadership of an external and experienced chair. More details will be published on the international website when available," the statement read.

 According to the NGO, the International Senate has ordered the creation of a global child safeguarding ombudsperson system to support victims, survivors and anybody seeking resolution of concerns. 

"A range of further actions to improve safeguarding include making funding from existing reserves available for direct individual support to all children, young persons and other persons affected by abuse in SOS Children’s Villages programmes, to ensure those affected can heal, have closure and have the capacity to become self-reliant," the statement read. 

SOS International CEO Ingrid Maria Johansen

The CEO, Ingrid Maria Johansen said the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in their programs is their primary concern and the reason the NGO exist.

"I am deeply saddened that there have been cases within the organisation where some amongst us did not fulfill our promise to keep children safe. On behalf of the federation, I apologise to the children and young people who have been subject to harm," Johansen said.

She added, "There have been cases where we did not follow the correct procedures, where we did not take sufficient action against perpetrators, where our national and international leaders did not listen to children or our own staff members. I apologise that we did not always live up to the standards we expect for ourselves".

Johansen said Children and young people need adults that can be trusted and she deeply regrets that there have been times where they broke that trust.

“We have a duty to act upon allegations and hold those responsible for these failings accountable. I am determined that we will repair harm where we can, support healing, and ensure that every single place in which we work will be safe and caring," she said.

“I will not rest until I am confident that the light of the truth has shone on all wrongdoing.  We will believe in the courageous individuals who have come forward. We will support those who have suffered, through care, counseling, and wellbeing programmes. We will do everything we can to hold perpetrators to account, with the help of competent authorities," she added. 

Johansen said together with her colleagues across SOS Children’s Villages looks to donors to support them in the journey. 

"We ask our public partners and governments to help us move rapidly in the right direction as they have helped others before.  With them by our side we can be confident that we can make sure that such failures will not, cannot happen again," she said.

SOS Children’s Villages is the world's largest non-governmental organisation focused on supporting children and young people without parental care, or at risk of losing it.

The organisation operates a federation system, with member associations present in 137 countries and territories, with over 65,000 children in its direct care.

It also supports 347,000 children, young people and adults through its family strengthening programs.

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