Prominent Canadian humanitarian worker Peter Dalglish faces charges of child sexual abuse in Nepal in connection with the alleged rape of two boys 12 and 14. (YouTube)

Child rape charges against Canadian humanitarian point to need for fundamental reform: expert

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The recent arrest of a prominent Canadian aid worker on suspicion of child sexual abuse in Nepal points to a critical need for fundamental reforms in the humanitarian aid community to protect vulnerable children and women from sexual predators, says an expert on gender-based violence and ending child sex abuse.

Peter Dalglish, who helped found the charity Street Kids International and has worked for decades for a number of humanitarian agencies, including UN Habitat in Afghanistan and the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response in Liberia, has been charged with sexually abusing children in Nepal, authorities in the Himalayan country said Monday.

Nepal’s Central Investigation Bureau chief Pushkar Karki said Dalglish, 60, was arrested in April at his home with two Nepalese boys aged 12 and 14 after weeks of investigation. His case is being heard by a court in Kavre, a town near Kathmandu.

Police allege children were lured with a promise of education and foreign travel before they were sexually abused.

Dalglish, a recipient of Order of Canada for his humanitarian work, denies the allegations, which have not been proven in a court of law yet. He faces up to 13 years in prison if convicted.

Canadian authorities are aware of the arrest of a Canadian citizen in Nepal, Global Affairs spokesperson Philip Hannan said in an email to CBC News.

“Consular services are being provided,” Hannan said, adding that “due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information on this specific case can be disclosed.”

A perfect cover for a paedophile

A Rohingya refugee boy carries water in the Kutupalong refugee camp, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh March 22, 2018. (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/REUTERS)

Lori Handrahan, a veteran humanitarian worker and the author of Epidemic: America’s Trade in Child Rape, said international humanitarian NGOs present a perfect cover for paedophile seeking access to large numbers of vulnerable children.

“When there is an earthquake in Nepal or an earthquake in Haiti or a tsunami in Asia, a humanitarian disaster or a man-made conflict like South Sudan, you have a huge population of vulnerable children who are basically dispensable,” Handrahan told Radio Canada International in a phone interview from Washington D.C.

“So a man who gets a job with Save the Children or the Red Cross or Oxfam or a UN agency and goes to work in a humanitarian response can very easily rape and molest, and abuse many-many children, who have no way to report the abuse, have nobody protecting them.”

(click to listen to the full interview with Lori Handrahan)

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Need to monitor humanitarian workers

A woman walks carrying a suitcase on her head next to an Oxfam sign in Corail, a camp for displaced people of the 2010 earthquake, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 13, 2018. (Andres Martinez Casares/REUTERS)

Handrahan, who has more than two decades of experience working with international NGOs in Central Asia, Africa and the Balkans, said Dalglish’s case raises troubling questions about the willingness of international humanitarian NGOs to police themselves.

“It’s actually very easy to monitor your own employees,” Handrahan said.

Research shows that most of the predatory activity happens on the physical premises owned or operated by the humanitarian NGOs and then is shared using workplace electronic communications networks and equipment, Handrahan said.

“All every humanitarian agency has to do and must do is install very robust monitoring software and monitor the electronic infrastructure,” she said.

Similar to a home alarm where you can designate a call list of people who would get contacted when your alarm goes off when you’re away, this monitoring software sends alarm notifications to designated people and entities, such as Interpol, every time it detects trafficking of child pornography through its systems, Handrahan said.

“The reason we haven’t done that – I suspect from my extensive research – is that most organizations are quite aware who their predators are internally and they are aware that a large number of men in leadership positions would get arrested if they started monitoring the workplace,” Handrahan said.

“We have to do that. We have to clean up the shop and get rid of the predators in our workplace.”

‘A lot of talk but no action’

A handout photograph taken in May 2008 and released to Reuters in London on May 26, 2008 by Save the Children, shows “Elizabeth”, who says she was raped by 10 peacekeepers in the Ivory Coast in June 2007, aged 12 years old. Sexual abuse of children by aid workers and peacekeepers is rife and efforts to protect young people are inadequate, said a 2008 report. The study by charity Save the Children UK said there were significant levels of abuse in emergencies, much of it unreported and unless the silence ended, attempts to stamp out exploitation would “remain fundamentally flawed”. (Brendan Bannon/Save the Children/Handout /REUTERS)

Handrahan said following the Harvey Weinstein case and the #MeToo movement and the #AidToo movement in the humanitarian community there has been a lot of talk but no action to implement structural changes.

“What we need to do is we have to tear down the organizational infrastructures that have allowed predators to flourish in humanitarian organizations,” Handrahan said.

“There has to be true zero tolerance and that means we have to prosecute, and in order to prosecute we have to investigate, and to investigate it means we have to set up structures that allow us to collect the data so that we can prosecute, which goes back to the electronic monitoring.”

Big donors such as Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, the United States, Sweden and Norway also have an obligation to pressure humanitarian NGOs to start patrolling their electronic infrastructure, Handrahan said.

“If you are allowing predators to operate in your workplace, particularly as a humanitarian, when you are supposed to be protecting people, you should lose the trust of the public if you can’t monitor your own workplace and make sure there aren’t predators within your own workplace,” she said.

Protecting whistleblowers

Anders Kompass, member of staff at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is pictured during a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, November 12, 2015. Kompass who was suspended for exposing the sexual abuse of children by peacekeepers resigned in 2016 over the organisation’s failure to hold senior officials to account. (Denis Balibouse/REUTERS)

It is also critical to set up systems to protect whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing in their organizations, Handrahan said, citing the example of British lawyer Madeleine Rees who was fired from her position after exposing child trafficking by UN peacekeepers in Bosnia and Anders Kompass of Sweden who was suspended  from his job after exposing the sexual abuse of children by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.

“When these people report on the predators, they’re forced out of the humanitarian world,” said Handrahan, who was forced out of her job as UNHCR’s first Gender Expert in emergency operations during the Darfur genocide after she reported a case of food-for-sex abuse at the refugee camps in Chad.

“What we need to do is to protect the whistleblowers, we need to bring anybody who’s been forced out of the humanitarian world for reporting on abusive behaviour back in, we need to be re-employed, we need to be promoted, and the predatory men need to be forced out and held accountable.”

With files from The Associated Press

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