Scottish aid groups dragged into charity sex scandal

Two Scottish aid organisations have become the latest charities involved in an international sexual misconduct scandal after releasing details of allegations made against their staff.

Mercy Corps work in Nepal.
Mercy Corps work in Nepal.

The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (Sciaf) said it had dealt with two cases of alleged abuse of children, while Mercy Corps said it had investigated 11 allegations of harassment and misconduct in the past year and had sacked five employees.

Details of allegations involving a number of charities have emerged since claims published last week that Oxfam concealed the findings of an inquiry into claims staff used prostitutes while delivering aid in earthquake-hit Haiti in 2011.

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Sciaf said one of its cases involved a junior staff member for a joint organisation with other UK and Irish Catholic charities in Ethiopia, and the other a volunteer in Burundi.

The Burundi incident involved the alleged rape in 2012 of a 15-year-old girl by a 45-year-old Burundian man who volunteered for a local partner organisation for Sciaf.

The Ethiopian man accused in the other incident worked in the shared office of Sciaf and its sister UK and Irish aid charities Cafod and Trocaire in 2016 when he was accused of sexual misconduct with a boy aged under 16. Neither of the alleged victims were being helped by Sciaf and the incidents did not take place during any of the charity’s projects.

Sciaf director Alistair Dutton said both incidents were dealt with “decisively” and reassured supporters that the charity has stringent safeguarding procedures.

He 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. The case is since believed to have 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.

“Sciaf is doing everything we can to minimise the risk of these events and to deal with them appropriately,” Mr Dutton said.

“We commissioned a well-known and respected safeguarding expert in the sector to conduct an external evaluation for us. He reviewed all our child protection policies including these two cases and commended us for our policies but also the way we dealt with the cases.”

Mercy Corps, which has its European headquarters in Edinburgh, said it had terminated the contracts of five employees and disciplined another.

In a statement, the charity said: “In the past year, we received and investigated 11 allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.

“We terminated five employees and disciplined one as a result of our investigations. We terminated some of these employees for other reasons and even though their conduct did not rise to the level of sexual harassment or misconduct. We referred one allegation of attempted sexual exploitation to law enforcement for investigation.

“At Mercy Corps, we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment and misconduct.”

The charity, which operates in 122 countries, said the figures were related to all its work across the globe.

A third charity, Mary’s Meals, did not respond when contacted by The Scotsman yesterday.

Earlier this week, Christian Aid said it had investigated two cases of sexual misconduct both of which took place overseas.

One investigation led to the dismissal of a staff member, while the other case resulted in disciplinary action.

Save the Children, has previously said that 31 allegations of sexual harassment had been investigated since 2016, leading to 16 dismissals and ten referrals to the police.