The DEMOCRAT

Popular Mary’s Meals and SCIAF stay vigilant and claim sexual abuse safeguards are in place

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Film star Gerald Butler on a fact-finding mission with Mary’s Meals in Africa.

By Bill Heaney

February 16, 2018 – Two Scottish charities which receive significant support from churches, clubs, community groups and schools in West Dunbartonshire, have defended themselves in the wake of scandalous revelations about Oxfam.

Serious accusations have been made about Oxfam employed charity workers, some of them at a senior level, using prostitutes and abusing children while on missions to bring food and medical aid to desperate people in the wake of war and famine in Third World countries.

But both Mary’s Meals and the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) say that although there have been a small number of instances of sexual abuse reported to them over a long period of time, they are confident that their safeguarding procedures to protect vulnerable women and children are in place and that they can be trusted.

Daniel Adams, who heads up Mary’s Meals’ fund-raising operation in the UK, said: “In line with our statement of values and code of conduct, Mary’s Meals takes the issue of safeguarding extremely seriously and is committed to ensuring that abusive behaviour is not tolerated within our organisation.

“Respecting and upholding the dignity and safety of all those involved in our mission – including our staff, volunteers, the children who receive our meals, and the wider communities in which we work – is central to everything Mary’s Meals does.

“We have robust safeguarding policies and procedures in operation to protect vulnerable people and we are committed to continually reviewing and improving our approach, so that the strongest possible safeguarding practices are in place.

“Our supporters will be reassured to know that Mary’s Meals has had no reported incidents of misconduct involving children.

“In 2017, we investigated one incidence of an inappropriate relationship between two consenting adults; a local male member of staff, from one of the countries in which we work, and a local woman.”

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Daniel Adams of Mary’s Meals in Scotland.  Picture by Bill Heaney.

 He told The DEMOCRAT: “Although no crime was committed, no minors were involved and the inappropriate behaviour did not occur while carrying out the charity’s activities, the staff member’s actions were in breach of our code of conduct, which sets high standards for all those involved in our mission. The staff member was dismissed promptly after the relationship was reported.

“The work of Mary’s Meals is made possible by the kindness and goodness of many people all over the world – who refuse to accept that any child should go hungry in this world of plenty – and, together, we are committed to reaching more and more hungry children with a nutritious daily meal in school.”

Mary’s Meals, which is supported by celebrities including singer Susan Boyle and film star Gerald Butler, feeds and educates 30,000 children every day in Haiti, which was devastated by an earthquake, and carries out significant similar work in Liberia and Malawi, where Church of Scotland charities have had a presence since the time of Dr Hastings Banda, who died 20 years ago.

Malawi has strong links with the famous Church of Scotland missionary David Livingstone, the Catholic White Fathers and Lutherans.

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Alistair Dutton, of SCIAF. 

Alistair Dutton, boss of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, said it was doing all it could to protect those in its project work. There were two cases of sexual misconduct brought to his attention, he said. The first case in 2012 involved the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a 45-year-old Burundian man.  The second case in 2016 involved an Ethiopian man accused of sexual misconduct with a boy under 16. In the 2012 incident the man in question had been a volunteer in a local partner organisation of SCIAF.  The 2016 case involved a junior staff member working in the shared office of SCIAF and its sister UK and Irish aid charities Cafod and Trocaire.  Neither of the alleged victims was being helped by SCIAF and the incidents did not take place during any of the charity’s projects.

Mr Dutton said both incidents were dealt with “decisively” and reassured supporters that the charity had stringent safeguarding procedures.

He said: “I want to reassure our supporters and the general public throughout Scotland that they can trust SCIAF and they can be confident that we are doing everything we possibly can to make people in our programmes safe.”

SCIAF has spoken out about the cases amid scrutiny of the UK aid sector after the Oxfam sexual misconduct scandal.

Meanwhile, International Development Minister, Alasdair Allan, has written to more than 40 organisations which receive funding from the Scottish government asking them to confirm they have robust safeguarding policies in place.

Scotland’s charity regulator, the OSCR, the Scottish Charity Regulator, has said it expects organisations will be looking back through their records and it would not be surprised if similar cases are reported in the coming weeks and months.

There has been widespread reluctance amongst charities to speak publicly about this scandal although Oxfam themselves, SCIAF and Mary’s Meals have now spoken to the media.

According to BBC Scotland, First Aid Africa said it had recently revised its process of reporting, making it simpler to escalate any issues.

Another said these recent revelations had prompted plans to provide free training for partner organisations.

No further incidents have so far been revealed by these charities.

But there was a suggestion of concern that recent scandals will put the public off supporting charities.

One charity manager said: “What is worrying about these allegations is if Scotland’s other international development efforts are tarred with the same brush.  It would be really sad if people become far less willing to volunteer.”

SCIAF Susan Boyle pic by SCO

Singer Susan Boyle supports Wee Box campaign for SCIAF.

An OSCR spokesperson said: “We were satisfied with the reports received from SCIAF which showed that they had reacted effectively when the reported problems were uncovered.  We have not received additional reports on the back of the recent media coverage.

“We sent a reminder to every charity about notifying us of significant incidents and we encourage anyone with information that may be relevant to get in contact with us.”

Oxfam has been accused of concealing the findings of an inquiry into claims staff used prostitutes while delivering aid in Haiti in 2011

Mr Dutton of SCIAF said the Burundi man was reported to police, arrested and suspended as a volunteer, and the local charity partner co-operated with the police investigation and provided counselling and legal advice to the girl’s family. It is understood that the case had been dropped.

The 2016 incident was reported to the charity by police and the man was suspended immediately and has since been dismissed for gross misconduct following an internal investigation. The criminal case is continuing.

The charity said the Burundi partner organisation did not have a child protection policy in 2012 but has since put one in place and extra training has been given to staff in both locations, with general child protection policies updated.

SCIAF, whose Wee Box campaign for Lent has received widespread support in Scotland, provides grants to partners to develop child protection policies which stipulate that all safeguarding cases must be reported to SCIAF with evidence to show that appropriate action is being taken.

During an interview with BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Dutton said he took personal responsibility for the aid programmes that SCIAF carried out.

He explained: “Every case of sexual abuse is a personal tragedy for the person involved and I personally take responsibility for safeguarding within our programmes. Wherever anybody is harmed in our programmes I would apologise profusely for that.  I am appalled that it happened, but I am confident we are doing everything we can to internally to minimise the risk of that happening and to act decisively and quickly whenever we find out about a case.”

Mr Dutton said SCIAF commissioned a safeguarding expert to conduct an evaluation of its practices.  A report recommended some minor improvements, he added.

He said: “SCIAF helps about a quarter of a million people directly every year, that makes a massive difference for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. In over 50 years we have had two cases reported to us relating to sexual misconduct and both were dealt with decisively.”

 

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