Friday, January 28, 2022
Raped and brutalised: Penny Appeal orphans long wait for no justice
January 7, 2022 4:05 pm by Mustapha K Darboe
Hundreds of orphans have been abused and exploited in orphanages operating illegally in the Gambia for six years. The main culprits are Penny Appeal, a UK-based international charity with injured reputation and a possible con artist in philanthropic clothing.
He operates a chain of businesses and charities, raking in profits on the backs of the orphans under his care. The children want justice for the rape and mistreatment meted out on them.
But they might as well be waiting for justice that may never arrive. With the perpetrators allegedly using money, influence and threats of marabouts, the state authorities have retreated, if not frustrated or blocked the pursuit for justice.
Sitting on the balcony of the third floor at Adama Kassama’s house offers 12-year-old Ansu* a bird’s eye view of the middle-class neighbourhood of Kerr Serign. But his eyes, suddenly sunken, are fixated on a compound situated a few blocks away. The complex is nicely decorated with kids wall cartoon paintings. But Ansu isn’t fascinated. He’s troubled by the sight of the place. He remembers vividly what happened to him there.
“They raped us there,” he muttered. The shy-looking boy recoils on a locally made bamboo chair, fiddling with his tiny, smooth fingers.
There means an orphanage that used to shelter him. The 10-bedroom facility housed 50 orphans and caregivers. It was run by a UK-charity, Penny Appeal, through a local partner, Annasru. None of them have however obtained any legal permit to operate an orphanage.
Ansu lost his father when he was barely a month old. The mother, Ara*, is a petty trader. She enrolled Ansu at the orphanage when he was 6 years old.
“Whenever I visit him there, he would cry and tell me in Fula that he wanted to leave,” she said, adding: “They abused him. They made him a wife. Anytime they need sex, they go after him.”
Like his mom, Ansu wants the perpetrators punished. “I want them to go to jail,” he said with a tinge of anger.
But his culprits are nowhere near the gates of jail.
In this investigation, Malagen has interviewed nearly two dozen people. They include orphans, teachers, caregivers, parents and guardians, police, state prosecutors, ministers, and social welfare workers. We have gained access to vital official records.
The evidence gathered points to systematic and widespread abuse and exploitation of orphans in the orphanages that were operating illegally by the UK charity, Penny Appeal, and its local partner, Annasru.
The man behind the operations of both charities is a self-style philanthropist. Atabou Aidara created a chain of businesses and so-called charities that feed off the funds that come through for the orphans. In his childcare facilities, children – boys and girls – as young as six years old, were sexually abused, raped, beaten up, incarcerated, starved, and forced to eat stale food served from his wife’s fast food restaurant.
The state investigators have established that crimes were committed.
“There is evidence of physical and psychological abuse of children in their facilities,” social welfare authorities reported.
But perpetrators are not just walking freely. They are talking to the authorities, seeking to deny justice for the orphans.
While the Minister for Justice, Dawda Jallow, said he is contemplating relaunching the case, the minister responsible for children, Fatou Kinteh, has concluded that there was no wrongdoing. “The case is over, and we’ve written to them to resume their work,” she told Malagen.
From digging boreholes to running orphanages
Penny Appeal opened its Gambia office in 2014. It is registered as a charity but has not obtained a legal permit to run a child-care centre.
Annasru, the local partner, is neither legally registered as a charity nor as an orphanage.
Yet, in six years of operations, the two outfits recruited an estimated 385 children into their 10 orphanage facilities spread in the Kanifing and West Coast areas.
The charities have not been operating covertly though. One of the main sponsors was a British boxer and two-time world light welterweight champion, Amir Khan who presided over an elaborate launch in 2018, covered by international news media, including the BBC.
How come an orphanage that has not regularised its status was allowed to operate under the nose of social welfare authorities for that long?
The coordinator of Child Protection Alliance (CPA), a consortium of child welfare advocacy organisations, said the case of Penny Appeal and Annasru is not unique. Lamin Fatty highlighted that a greater number of orphanages in the country are operating without a legal permit from the Department of Social Welfare. “There is not even a data on the number of orphanages we have in the country,” he added.
The demand for orphanages in The Gambia appears to be high. The 2013 Census shows that 40 percent of children under the age of 18 are not living with both parents, either because the parents have died or other reasons. And 8 percent of children under the age of 18 are orphaned.
See also Inside Malagasy ‘Miracle Covid Cure’ Donation that Costs Gambia D2.2M.
The high percentage of orphaned children creates business for charities like Penny Appeal. As social welfare apparently neglects its duty to keep them in check, they operate without any effective oversight.
Samba*, now 14, was enrolled at 9 years of age. “I was told there is a school that helps orphans to learn the Quran and English,” said his mom, Kumba*.
Fatou*, 36, worked at the orphanage briefly before she was summarily terminated. She enrolled four of her orphaned kids. “Shortly after their father died, things became tough on me,” she said.
Profiting from the orphans