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New database to tackle aid-sector abuse scandal

19 October 2018

Checks for charities, but charity CAFOD fails safeguarding tests


The International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, speaks at the Conservative Party Conference earlier this month

The International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, speaks at the Conservative Party Conference earlier this month

A NEW global database of dangerous criminals will be launched by the Government to try to prevent their working in the aid sector, it was announced yesterday.

It follows the uncovering of the abuse scandal within Oxfam this year by The Times (News, 13 February). Whitehall officials confirmed that the Government would be putting £2 million into the scheme, which will use Interpol’s green-notice system to track people “considered to be a threat to public safety”.

The system and its first five years are estimated to cost £10 million.

Charities and NGOs will be able to use the register to check prospective aid workers. It will also be used to arrest offenders around the world.

A report published by MPs in July said that the aid sector showed “complacency verging on complicity” in responding to sexual exploitation and abuse; that the problem of sexual abuse was “endemic” in the aid sector; and that there had been an “abject failure” in tackling it (News, 31 July).

A spokesman for the Department for International Development told The Guardian on Tuesday: “This initiative will help prevent abuse by stopping high-risk individuals from being hired, and increase the chances of perpetrators’ being arrested by law enforcement agencies.”

The International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, told The Times: “The most shocking thing [about the Oxfam scandal] was the inadequacy of that organisation’s response — the utter lack of moral compass as to what the right course of action was towards the victims, and in allowing someone who shouldn’t have been in a position of authority to transfer to other organisations. . .

“I have been very clear that, when organisations report and their numbers go up, we don’t beat them up. . . Had Oxfam done the things that you would have expected — report properly; honour obligations to their donors, the Charity Commission, and the beneficiaries; ensure that individuals of concern were not able to move on to other organisations — then it would not have had the crisis that ensued.”

A report published by the Charity Commission on Wednesday said that the body still had concerns over “systemic under-reporting of serious incidents” by charities.

The Commission’s interim task force’s inquiry on safeguarding shows that only 1.5 per cent of registered charities have submitted a serious-incident report since 2014, while just 0.9 per cent have reported a safeguarding incident.

The Commission’s director of policy, planning, and communication, Sarah Atkinson, said: “The public rightly expects charities to demonstrate the highest standards of ethical behaviour and attitude. That includes taking action when something has gone badly wrong, or when there’s been a near-miss.

“Making a serious-incident report to the Commission is not, in itself, an admission of wrongdoing or failure. Quite the reverse: it demonstrates that a charity is responding properly to incident or concern. So we welcome the increase in reporting by some charities, especially international aid charities that appear to have improved their reporting since February’s revelations.

“But we’re not convinced that we’re seeing everything we should be. Working with charities, we need to bring about a culture change on reporting to ensure that charities are safe places, better able to make a difference to people’s lives.”

On Wednesday, it was revealed that CAFOD had been suspended by the Humanitarian Quality Assurance Initiative (HQAI), an international scheme which checks how charities meet humanitarian standards, including how complaints against aid workers, including those that concern sexual-abuse allegations, are handled.

CAFOD scored zero for its handling of complaints. It sacked a staff member after allegations of sexual misconduct with a boy in Ethiopia, in 2016, and was forced to sack a worker who was connected to the Oxfam scandal.

An examination of the charity’s programmes in Kenya and Ethiopia showed “serious and connected weaknesses around complaints programmes”, The Guardian reported.

HQAI listed seven breaches of core humanitarian standards, and gave the charity nought out of five for seeing that complaints were “welcomed and addressed”.

CAFOD’s director, Chris Bain, said on Tuesday: “We are passionate about protecting as well as serving the poorest communities overseas. CAFOD requested the independent HQAI audit to hold ourselves fully accountable. We were very disappointed that it found gaps in how we welcome and address complaints from overseas communities, and we will do better.

“By shining a light into all areas of our work, and taking action, we are a stronger and more accountable organisation, upholding our commitment and passion to improve the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people.”

CAFOD also says that all staff have been on a refresher course to make them aware of their responsibilities; that it has conducted an independent review of how it works with other international agencies; and that it has allocated more resources to its internal safeguarding team.

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