Police are investigating rape allegations brought by a 16-year-old girl against three male staff of the SOS Children's Villages-Liberia, including its national director, Augustine Allieu. The young lady in question, who has been a program participant of the SOS Children’s Village in Grand Bassa County since childhood, was recently discovered to be pregnant.
The case was initially reported to the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP) in October 2021 that the girl (name withheld) had gone missing. However, when the Ministry probed further, it turned out to be that the girl had been raped. But the girl, after she was found and questioned, denied that she had been raped until it was determined that she was pregnant. On Wednesday, April 13, the Gender Ministry forwarded the matter to the Liberia National Police for investigation.
“Apparently, SOS has about three other cases there. They have situations where people are reported to have been raped, but the survivors would come and say it's not true,” a source at the MGCSP said.
The survivor is currently in the custody of the Gender Ministry, and is also aiding police with the investigation.
“With this case,” the Gender Ministry source added, “we have been escorting the survivor to the police, giving her that support. Regardless of whether we believe the survivor or not, if any comes in and says they were abused, we are supposed to give them that support, until otherwise disproven.
“But this case is difficult for us because SOS is our partner in child protection. But we have to play our role to provide the care and protection for the said child.”
A source at the Ministry of Justice confirmed that the Liberia National Police is actually investigating three suspects, including Mr. Allieu.
“Tomorrow a medical report is expected,” a source at the Justice Ministry told the Daily Observer, “to establish, among other things, that she is pregnant. We must have a medical report as part of our standard procedure in this investigation. After the police investigation, if we are not satisfied with the outcome, the Ministry of Justice will take up the case and file a subpoena to extract fluids from the suspects and send them to Ghana to try to determine which of them impregnated the girl.
According to our sources, a team of investigators from SOS Children’s Villages International is also in Liberia to probe the situation, following an earlier report by an SOS alumna that impregnations of girls in the program by staff have been going on for some time.
A staff member of SOS Children’s Villages Liberia, who said he was not clothed with the authority to speak to the situation and asked not to be named, said he “could not confirm or deny” the incident.
However sources informed about the situation hinted to the Daily Observer that the entire employ of the SOS Liberia have been handed a gag order by the institution and that those found discussing the issue to media or external parties would face immediate termination.
Augustine Allieu has plied his career in the international development sector in the subregion, having served leadership posts at several international NGOs in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Prior to taking the helm at SOS Children’s Villages Liberia in July 2017, he served as Head of Programme Strategy at Plan International, West and Central Africa Region. Before that, he served as Country Director at Plan International Sierra Leone and Country Director at Plan International Liberia in succession. And prior to that, he served as Head of Programs at Catholic Relief Services Liberia Program.
Established in 1949 in Tyrol, Austria, by Austrian philanthropist Hermann Gmeiner, SOS Children's Villages is the world's largest non-governmental organization focused on supporting children without parental care and families at risk. Today, SOS Children's Villages, medical services and educational facilities in 135 countries and territories worldwide, including Liberia.
SOS Children’s Villages Liberia, a member of the SOS Children‘s Villages International Federation, began operations on January 1, 1981, following an agreement between the Government of Liberia and SOS Children’s Villages International. The first Children’s Village was opened in Monrovia, Montserrado County, followed by the second Children’s Village in Juah Town, Grand Bassa County.
The organization has programs that support children up to their transition into adulthood, through education, healthcare and a family strengthening program.
“For children who are no longer able to live with their parents, fifteen SOS families in Monrovia are available to provide a loving home for up to 150 children. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters, affectionately cared for by their SOS mother,” the organization’s website says. The project is also operational in Grand Bassa County.
Late Thursday evening, April 14, the SOS country director, Augustine Allieu, reached out to the Daily Observer to share his side of the story. Mr. Allieu said that he has been cooperating with the police from the inception of the investigation and, since the case has implicated him, the police turned him over to his lawyer, to ensure regular appearances before the police investigators.
“As country director,” Allieu explained, “you are the chief, the main accountability for child protection in the country. Under you, there would be a child protection coordinator who does the normal operational issues around child protection. And we have a regional office in Dakar, Senegal, that oversees 21 countries.
“In October last year, I got a communication from the regional office telling me that a whistleblower in Monrovia, Liberia had informed them that one of our children in Buchanan Children’s Village has been sexually abused by one of our staff in Buchanan.
“And they told me that, since this allegedly happened in Liberia, therefore, we cannot handle it using the Senegalese law. You, as country director, we want to make sure that you lead on this, and report it to the external authorities and make sure that an investigation is done on this staff that [has been] reported.
“So when I got that, they even shared with me a weekly reporting format, which I should use every Monday to report to them on progress. When I got this instruction from them, I contacted our lawyer, Cllr. Benedict Sannoh… to draft a letter for us to be sent to the Women and Children Division of the Liberia National Police reporting this issue, and then asking them to officially investigate the staff in Buchanan that has been allegedly reported by the whistleblower.
“The counselor drafted the letter. Normally, it should come under my signature. So he sent it to me, we shared it with the regional office, we all agreed on the content and I signed it and submitted it to the Liberia National Police — the Women and Children Division — in October last year, reporting the issue and asking them to investigate the matter. I did three copies of that letter and sent them to the Gender Ministry. I shared a copy with the Gender Minister, Williametta Tarr; I shared it with the Deputy for Children’s issues, Lydia Sherman; and I shared it with the director for social protection, Mrs. Elfrieda Capehart. They started the investigation with the National Police, and every time they would give me an update and then I would include it in my progress report to the regional office.
“Some time early this year, I think January or February or so, I can’t remember, the update from the Liberia National Police indicated that the victim has reported that the first perpetrator is not the one anymore that abused her. Instead, it is another person and that is the accountant in the Buchanan office. So that has made the second person that she is confirming.
“So they asked us to make available the HR manager to make available the accountant in Buchanan for investigation. So they had been investigating that first person, which is our local services coordinator, and the Buchanan accountant — both of them. They have been investigating them since October, and the investigation is still going on; it’s not concluded.
“I was very shocked this week to hear that the lady in question has said, ‘it’s not the first person, it’s not the second person, now it is the national director who actually abused me sexually’.
“That happened on Monday this week. Before that, we understood that people in the office went to the girl’s house, took her, brought her to SOS compound in the guest house [where they] were pampering her throughout the weekend, and then on Monday, she reported that I abused her.
“It’s likely that they have been working on her to make sure that this happens. And this girl may be very, very vulnerable because this girl was in the children’s home in Buchanan. Sometime late 2020, early 2021, she told us that she no longer wants to be in the Children’s Village in Buchanan, she wants to be brought to her people in Monrovia. So we took her from the Children’s village in Buchanan and reunified her — along with the Minister of Gender — with her people in Monrovia. Another story is saying that this girl is currently in the other Children’s Home in Monrovia. It is not true. The girl, since early last year, she has been with her people, not in the Children’s Village.
“Since early 2021 she has been with her people in Monrovia. We have two sets of children. We have those living in the village, and we have those living with their people in the community. But we give them the same support also — education, health, rent allowance, monthly allowance, psychosocial support, every kind of support [that] we give to the same children in the village. So she is one of 213 youth that are in the community living with her parents since last year.”
Mr. Allieu says since the young lady reunited with her parents last year, she did not have an initial cozy ride with her biological mother. “So she has been pushing to be readmitted into the Children’s Village. And we have said, no, we cannot readmit you into the Village, because the UN convention and even SOS policy is that the best place for the child is with the family. We should not be keeping children in institutions. So, if you have found your family, be with your family. We will give you all the support you require, but we cannot readmit you in the Village.
“This did not augur well with her and some of the staff also, so they’ve been doing a lot of politics around it. So now, they are using this situation to probably let this girl know, ‘hey, the director is one of those against you returning to the village. Maybe this is an opportunity to get him out because some of us also want him out.”