SOS Children’s Villages International supports 1.2 million people — mostly children — through more than 550 centres and other programmes around the world, helping orphans and others in need, according to a spokeswoman.
It has found “cases of serious child protection violations and mismanagement”, a manager of the organisation’s founding Austrian branch, Elisabeth Hauser, said in a statement.
Allegations of child mistreatment, including sexual abuse, and fund mismanagement have cropped up in about 20 of the 137 countries where the charity operates, the group’s spokeswoman told AFP.
More than 40,000 people work for the organisation, which was founded more than 70 years ago.
The spokeswoman said the organisation could not say how many children have been affected because the probe was still ongoing.
“There are also allegations that executives from SOS Children’s Villages International were aware of some of the incidents and that the investigation and prosecution was suppressed,” Hauser said.
In a separate statement, SOS Children’s Villages International CEO Ingrid Maria Johansen apologised to “the children and young people who have been subject to harm”.
“I am deeply saddened that there have been cases within the organisation where some amongst us did not fulfil our promise to keep children safe,” she said, promising “new measures” to address the problems.
The cases — some dating back to the 1990s — came to light through an investigation commissioned by the charity last November following an initial probe into abuse allegations launched three years ago.
Hauser said that in one case, a child whose performance in school had dropped had been locked up and not allowed to visit their own parents.
As an example of fund mismanagement, Hauser pointed to alleged cases of nepotism in the awarding of construction contracts.
An independent commission has been set up to probe the cases further and suggest structural changes to the group, Hauser said. A report is expected by the second half of 2022. “We are called upon to act decisively and without compromises,” Hauser said.
“Our structure obviously has weaknesses.” She said victims would be compensated from a special fund totalling “millions of euros”.
In 2012, SOS Children’s Village Austria tasked an Austrian historian with documenting its work and educational practices from the 1950s to the 1990s, including shedding light on past cases of violence against children.
A damning book titled “Committed to Silence: Experiences with SOS Children’s Villages” was published two years later.