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SOS Children's Village probes sexual abuse, corruption

SOS Children's Village probes sexual abuse, corruption
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Protection of children

The international NGO SOS Children's Villages, which helps orphans and children in need, announced on Thursday that it is investigating cases of violence, particularly sexual violence, and fraud committed since the 1990s in some of its twenty centers.

The co-director of the Austrian-based charity, Elisabeth Hauser, revealed in a statement "cases of serious child protection violations and mismanagement in some African and Asian countries", saying she was "deeply shocked".

"There are clear weaknesses in our organization and accusations that SOS Children's Villages leaders were aware of some incidents but did not take action," she added.

According to a spokeswoman contacted by AFP in Vienna, "sexual abuse" has been reported, while whistleblowers have been "dismissed" and the word of minors "questioned".

As an example, Ms. Hauser revealed to the press a case of a child placed in isolation and banned from visiting his own parents because of poor school results.

On the subject of inappropriate management of funds, the director mentioned tenders for works won by relatives to officials working for SOS Children's Village.

The International Federation's CEO Ingrid Maria Johansen apologized to the children and young people who had been victims of the abuses.

"New measures" have "immediately" been put in place to support them and prevent such problems from occurring in the future, according to a statement on the website.

The NGO, which launched an initial internal review three years ago and ordered a further investigation in November 2020, reported the creation of an independent commission to shed light on the events.

It plans to compensate the unspecified number of victims with a fund of "several million euros", said Elisabeth Hauser.

Founded after the Second World War in Austria, the organization, which is now present in 137 countries where it runs some 550 charitable structures and has 40,000 employees, takes care of 1.2 million orphans or children in need throughout the world, according to the figures provided by the representative in Vienna.

In 2014, SOS Children's Village had already faced accusations of abuse in Austria, covering a period from the 1950s to 1990