The year saw a significant rise in the number of integrity cases. A total of 81 complaints were reported through the various Speak Up! Channels - 27 more than in 2020. While this rise may initially appear negative, it actually reflects a growing trust in and awareness of our reporting channels.
A boom in the usage of these channels was experienced over the year and can be largely attributed to the hard work of our integrity and child safeguarding focal points - a team of in-country sounding boards and confidential advisors who made their presence felt.
The majority of complaints (49) concerned alleged breaches of our Code of Conduct including two complaints of SEAH (sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment) against a War Child staff member and/or War Child representative. A further 18 complaints concerned suspected financial misconduct and 13 were directly related to War Child representatives’ interactions with children. While each case varied largely in terms of issue type and severity, more than 54 per cent were classified as ‘high severity’ (see below).
Type of issues reported:
Severity level of reported issues:
Critical (Level 3): Any CS or Integrity policy/guidance breach that has caused children/survivor or project participants serious harm (e.g. sexual harassment, sexual abuse, exploitation, any form of abuse including death). Any policy breach that may cause serious reputational risks to the organization.
High (Level 2): Any CS or Integrity policy/guidance breach that has placed children/survivor or project participants in serious risk of harm or where harm has already taken place but is not severe. Any policy breach that may cause reputational risks to the organization.
Medium (Level 1): Any CS or Integrity policy/guidance breach where no direct harm to children or project participants has taken place. Any CoC and/or CS policy/guidance breach that impacts the reporting party and the reputation of the organisation, but where there is no direct harm to an adult.
Any integrity breach is unacceptable, but child safeguarding incidents go against the core of our very mission.
Among 13 child safeguarding incidents, two were classified as ‘critical severity’. All received attention and action within the first 24 hours. All incidents came from five War Child countries: the Netherlands, Burundi, Uganda, Lebanon and Syria. The majority of cases related to physical abuse.
In some of the countries where we work, using physical violence - such as a slap or a push - to reprimand children is culturally acceptable. While it takes time for cultural norms to evolve, it is our job to ensure our zero-tolerance policy to all forms of violence is strictly adhered to. In response to this rise in cases, the year saw us design and deliver a series of child safeguarding training courses for local partners.
Only two of the reports related to potential online abuse. Thankfully, the policy breaches were reported early meaning no harm came to the children in question.
In December, War Child was shocked by an accusation of sexual misconduct with a minor made in Dutch news circles against our ambassador Marco Borsato. To be able to establish the facts of this case Borsato decided to resign his ambassadorship. War Child agreed with his decision and continued to ensure that our strict code of conduct regarding the protection and treatment of children is always respected by our employees and representatives. Read more about the status of this risk and the measures we have in place to manage it here .
Strengthening our Commitment
A boom in the usage of our various reporting channels can largely be attributed to the hard work of our integrity and child safeguarding focal points - a team of in-country sounding boards and confidential advisors who made their presence felt throughout 2021.
Countless training sessions and five major learning events were also delivered throughout the course of the year. The sessions were attended by War Child staff members and senior management alike and directly supported our mandatory integrity e-learning modules available in four languages.
Like we said, our goal is to eliminate all forms of abuse and misconduct within our walls - but we’re also realists. The first step is to ensure that anyone who comes into contact with War Child feels enabled to speak up and can file a report - no matter the hour - in confidence and safety.