IFC Response to Child Sexual Abuse Investigation Fails Survivors; Evades Responsibility

Inclusive Development International, Accountability Counsel, EACH Rights, Education International, Gender Action, GI-ESCR and urgewald e.V. address World Bank management's response to a scandalous investigation report on child sexual abuse allegations at Bank-supported schools in Kenya.

Today the World Bank released a scandalous internal investigation of child sexual abuse allegations at private schools funded by its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Although World Bank President Ajay Banga has expressed contrition, the IFC’s official management response fails to offer meaningful remedy to the survivors of abuse that it turned a blind eye to for almost a decade.  

IFC invested a total of US$13.5 million in the schools, known as Bridge International Academies (Bridge) (also NewGlobe Schools), between 2013 and 2016. Bridge employed unlicensed teachers and ran a large number of unregistered schools, increasing the risk of sexual abuse and exploitation of its pupils. This risk materialized. The investigation released today by the IFC’s internal watchdog, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman’s (CAO), confirms that dozens (and likely many more) Bridge students were sexually abused and suffered long-term harm as a result. IFC was found to be negligent in fulfilling its responsibilities to undertake sufficient and appropriate due diligence, supervision and monitoring of its then client, Bridge.

IFC supported a reckless educational experiment on African children, financing Bridge to rapidly expand their private school network in Kenya and beyond. Yet, IFC failed to conduct the basic due diligence required by its own policies to make sure the schools were safe. This is another example why the private equity and commercial interests should not dabble in the delivery of essential services,” said Johnstone Shisanya, Programme Manager at the East African Centre for Human Rights.   

IFC investment policies include requirements for its clients – in this case Bridge – to remediate the harm that their business activities cause. However, even after multiple cases of abuse were reported to IFC, CAO finds that IFC did nothing to ensure these children received redress. Instead, IFC and Bridge reportedly obstructed the CAO investigation, and covered up the allegations of abuse, lest these “spook” new investors. Finally, IFC made an irresponsible dash to exit its investment, dumping its shares in Bridge in 2022, leaving the Bridge survivors to fend for themselves.

Today, the IFC had the opportunity to acknowledge and learn from its mistakes, take responsibility for the harm that its investment contributed to, and provide meaningful redress to Bridge survivors. However, IFC’s “management action plan,” released alongside the CAO report, fails miserably. 

“IFC’s action plan fails to do the one thing that is required of it: provide remedy to the Bridge survivors,” said David Pred, Executive Director of Inclusive Development International.  

CAO itself had recommended that IFC work with Bridge to support a facility that would provide remedy to the Bridge survivors and their families. In response, IFC commits to “existing programs” that “primarily support the psychosocial needs of survivors of child sexual abuse, without discriminating between cases which may be associated with Bridge schools in Kenya and those associated with other environments.” CAO recommended that remedies include counseling, health care, support for education and employment, as well as “financial compensation.” In response, IFC fails to commit to meaningful financial redress, suggesting only that  “financial support”  could be provided on a case-by-case basis to cover  expenses related to accessing care. Survivors deserve clarity and financial redress tailored to their needs. International good practice for remediation of sexual abuse includes compensation for harm.

“While supporting child abuse service providers in Kenya is a worthwhile international development project, it is no substitute for providing tailored redress, including meaningful financial support, to the children who were abused at Bridge schools as a result of IFC’s negligence,” Pred added.

IFC’s response doesn’t yet include what survivors themselves want. Bridge survivors, who came forward with complaints to CAO in June and July 2023, have been requesting, through their representatives, to be consulted on the management action plan. But IFC took no steps to seek their input, focusing instead on pushing their incomplete and inadequate plan through to Board approval. 

“Any serious commitment to remedy must be designed in consultation with survivors,” said Teresa Mutua, Communities Co-Director at Accountability Counsel, which has been working alongside Inclusive Development International, Oxfam and Wangu Kanja Foundation with the Complainants in Nairobi. “A number of the girls have expressed clearly and plainly what remedy looks like to them. The fact that IFC has ignored them so far is a tragedy.”  

We are not alone in our grave concerns. Yesterday, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, urging the U.S. government to reject this plan until the survivors of the child sexual abuse and their families are directly and meaningfully compensated. While we understand that a number of representatives expressed concern about this failure, the IFC’s action plan was ultimately approved by the World Bank Board of Directors yesterday.  

After months of advocacy and damning media reports, World Bank President Ajay Banga last night, changed his tone. In an email to staff, he apologized on behalf of the World Bank Group: “I am sorry for the trauma these children experienced, committed to supporting the survivors, and determined to ensure we do better going forward.” He admits that the bank ignored reports of sexual abuse at Bridge schools and that staff “should have responded earlier and more aggressively.” He says that “IFC will develop a remediation program with input from survivors, civil society, and child abuse experts.” He also commits to an outside investigation of interference in the CAO process, an apparent response to concerns raised by civil society organizations and elected officials. The U.S. government echoed Banga’s commitment and expressed support for an “independent, external investigation.” 

“To be credible, this investigation must be conducted by an internationally reputable firm, reporting directly to the WBG Board, with terms of reference and findings made public,” said Dustin Schäfer, Head of IFI-Team at Urgewald. “Communities harmed by IFC projects need the CAO to act independently and with integrity.” 

Banga’s about-face is striking, and necessary, although it comes far too late and remains vague in its promises of “remediation.” It has taken a devastating amount of public and private pressure to bring him to take responsibility for the harm caused to Bridge survivors. And it is not clear that IFC management shares his sentiments. The battle for remedy for Bridge survivors is far from over. But today, it is clear that their voices can no longer be ignored. 

“Having apologized to the Bridge survivors on behalf of the Bank, Banga now has to ensure that they are compensated for what they went through. You can’t issue an institutional apology to kids who were raped by their teachers at schools you were supporting – and admit that your staff turned a blind eye to it – and not provide meaningful redress to the kids themselves,” added Pred. 

For more information, see:  

Frequently Asked Questions on Good Practice for Compensation as Part of Remedy for Sexual Abuse (March 2024)

Demanding Accountability:  Response to Reports of a Child Sexual Abuse Cover-Up at the World Bank (October 2023)


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