A high-profile Canadian aid worker has been sentenced to nine years and seven years in jail in Nepal, to be served concurrently, after being found guilty of sexually abusing two boys.
A court in the central Nepal district of Kavre on Monday also ordered Peter Dalglish to pay a fine of $9,112, more than a year after his arrest and a month after his conviction.
“The verdict sends an important message to humanitarian predators everywhere – if you prey on vulnerable children in Nepal, the Central Investigation Bureau will investigate and the courts will prosecute,” said Lori Handrahan, a humanitarian expert who has written about the sector’s failings.
“The criminal verdict opens a path for Dalglish’s victims to sue for civil damages so that they may enjoy restorative justice and heal from the crimes committed against them,” she told Al Jazeera.
The sentencing comes amid fears that Nepal has become a target for foreign paedophiles acting under the cover of aid work or philanthropy.
Nepalese police said the sentence imposed on Dalglish, the subject of an investigation by Al Jazeera’s 101 East programme, was a landmark decision.
“It helps spread the message to the world that Nepal is not safe for paedophiles,” said Kabit Katawal, deputy superintendent of the Nepal police.
Local community shocked
Dalglish, who spent almost 20 years working with some of the world’s poorest children in Africa, Afghanistan and Asia, plans to appeal the guilty verdict, his lawyer said.
Whistleblowers are silenced and forced out. Cover-up, deny, protect the predator remain the norm
Over the course of his career, the Canadian was employed by major aid organisations like the United Nations, set up his own charity, Street Kids International, and won prestigious awards for his work.
But Dalglish’s career was brought to an abrupt halt in April last year, when police burst into the home he built in the foothills of the Himalayas, about two hours’ drive from the capital, Kathmandu. Police found two boys aged 12 and 14 inside and took Dalglish into custody.
In an interview last October with Al Jazeera’s 101 East at a prison outside of Kathmandu, Dalglish insisted he was an innocent man caught up in a police crackdown.
“I will win my freedom,” he said. “I love this country. I will continue to fight to protect kids. Girls as well as boys. I’m not a paedophile. And I’ve never abused or touched any child inappropriately.”
When Al Jazeera travelled to the village near Dalglish’s home, local elder, Bikram Tamang, said his arrest had shocked the local community.
‘A wake-up call’
International aid organisations have come under fire in recent years for their handling of sexual abuse cases.
Handrahan, the humanitarian expert, believes Dalglish’s case should be a wake-up call, but she fears it’s largely been ignored.
“Right now, the international aid sector is refusing to look at Dalglish’s arrest or any of the many warning signs, reports and allegations that child sex abuse is rampant in our profession,” she said.
“Whistleblowers are silenced and forced out. Cover-up, deny, protect the predator remain the norm.”
Handrahan said the aid community needed to be more aware of how predators operate, groom and access victims through working in humanitarian jobs, and conduct comprehensive background checks, liaise with law enforcement and monitor their staff’s use of electronic networks.
Allegations about aid workers abusing children and women have also emerged from countries such as Haiti, where Oxfam staff were accused of paying earthquake survivors for sex.
A report released in July last year by British members of parliament found that the aid sector has been aware of sexual exploitation and abuse by its own personnel for years, but that it has failed to adequately address the problem.