Research SOS Children’s VillagesSOS Children’s Villages
SOS Children’s Villages Suriname has been subjected to sexual, physical, emotional and financial abuse for over thirty years. That is the conclusion in a report by research institute Verinorm in the hands of Nieuwsuur that has investigated reports of abuse and incidents at SOS Kinderdorpen Suriname.
The stories of nineteen victims of different ages show that the abuse took place from the establishment of the Children’s Village in 1972 until its closure in 2006. It involved sexual abuse: touching, fondling, forced oral sex and penetration. The physical abuse involved “beating” and “molesting”.
Some victims directly witnessed the sexual abuse of other children, sometimes a family member. From the report: “For example, some respondents have witnessed one or more very serious acts of violence against babies, sometimes their own sister or brother.” The victims also cite emotional abuse as neglect, mental abuse, unfair treatment and belittling.
Three victims have said that they were emotionally abused by the biological sons of an SOS aunt who was responsible for raising the children. “For example, there were two sons who made the sister and brother of a respondent fight with each other. These sons instructed the children to put their hand through their poop. If they did not do so, they were beaten by a son of an aunt imprisoned or “whipped” by him.”
The investigators also found evidence of financial misconduct involving financial malpractice and exploitation. “There is some ambiguity about the financial exploitation, i.e. stealing money from the sponsors (called “godfathers” in the Children’s Village) intended for the children. Money from donors that was meant for them has not reached them” , is stated in the report.
The victims accuse at least five different executives of some or more forms of abuse. This gives the impression that abuse by managers was structural in nature, the report says. “The line from a corrective blow to gross forms of abuse was regularly crossed. This is partly due to the lack of adequate supervision at all levels, not only within the SOS organization, but also beyond. There was no supervision, control or enforcement by the Surinamese government.”
Many wrongdoings have not been done. Children did not dare to speak about the abuse, were not believed or were themselves blamed for the abuse. A lawsuit against one former manager for the sexual abuse of minors within the SOS Children’s Village in Suriname was due to a female member of staff who made a report. The manager was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for sexually abusing a then twelve-year-old girl.
SOS Kinderdorpen Nederland says in a response that the abuse “goes against everything we stand for, namely letting children grow up safely”. “We have expanded and strengthened our child safety and integrity policies and procedures in recent years, and regularly review them to make improvements.” The conclusions of the report indicate that SOS Suriname has “seriously failed”.
“We cannot turn back time, but we are doing everything we can to support the victims now, psychosocially and financially and support for the longer term.”
SOS Children’s Villages is an international aid organization that mainly helps children whose parents are unable to do so due to poverty or family violence. In 137 countries, the organization takes care of 65,000 children and supports 347,000 people with social programs. A lot of money is involved within the organization: in 2019 that was 1.4 billion euros.
The Children’s Village in Paramaribo was founded in 1972 and was the first Children’s Village funded entirely by Dutch donations. In 1994, SOS Children’s Villages in Suriname became part of the global SOS Children’s Villages International. SOS Kinderdorpen Suriname was taken over in 2006 by ‘Foundation Prasoro for the child in need’.
The children who stayed in the Children’s Village in Suriname all had a problematic past before they arrived in the Children’s Village. “The sudden closure of SOS Kinderdorpen Suriname in 2006 and the lack of proper shelter and aftercare meant a lot to several victims,” the researchers write. “They feel abandoned and mistrust people, in addition to their problems moving on with their lives.”
The victims mainly mention the psychological consequences. “Almost every victim explicitly indicates (still) to contend with (major) psychological consequences of their time in the Children’s Village,” the report states. These include distrust, feelings of despair and depression.
According to the researchers, there are indications that there are many more victims in addition to the nineteen interviewees. “We were unable to speak to those ‘hidden victims’ because they did not want to cooperate or could not be traced. It is possible that those victims still report themselves,” the researchers write.
“We cannot give exact numbers,” says Marjan Olfers, researcher at Verinorm. “It is about a period of thirty years and an unknown number of children who have stayed there. We made many attempts to retrieve documents, but they were no longer there.”
Almost all victims indicate that they want recognition of the suffering they suffered in the Children’s Village at the time. They ask for psychological support and “also public apology is something they call”. “There is an urgent need for a professional, well-coordinated and monitored support system in Suriname,” the researchers write.
SOS Children’s Villages was discredited in 2021 due to an abuse scandal. In that year, an internal investigation showed that children in twenty countries were victims of violence and sexual abuse as a result of independent research published by SOS Children’s Villages itself. Then the CEO of SOS International publicly apologized and called on you to report if there were more victims. As a result of that call, the abuses at Kinderdorp Suriname came to light.