For the past few days, Greece has been in shock after the prosecution opened an investigation into several leaders of the Orthodox NGO Kivotos tou kosmou / Ark of the World (“the Ark of the world”) for violence sexual abuse and abuse of minors housed in five homes across the country. Founded and directed for nearly twenty-five years by Father Antonios Papanikolaou, the NGO takes in children separated from families who are financially unable to raise them or who are accused of abuse.
The case begins in August, when a social worker in a home lodges a complaint against another employee of the NGO who “beat”, according to him, minors. Other colleagues then denounced similar violence. But it is above all the testimonies of abused children collected by the defender of children’s rights which triggered the opening of an investigation by the prosecution, Friday, November 18. The prosecutor is currently studying at least ten depositions that accuse Father Antonios, his wife (Orthodox priests can be married) and three employees of the NGO of abuse.
Locked “in cages”
In the Greek media, the confessions of minors who have passed through the establishments are chilling. Several of them affirm, in the columns of the newspaper Kathimerini, that when they were punished by those in charge of the home, they were locked up for several hours in rooms or even “in cages” without daylight. Another boarder recounts having been forced to work in the fields from the age of 7. Several parents have complained that they have been banned from all visits by the organization. At 17, Evgenia also tells, on the television channel Skai TV, to have become pregnant and to have been forced to have an abortion. Separated from her three brothers and sisters, she will be regularly locked in the toilets for several hours “to be punished”.
In addition to the mistreatment of children, there are serious accusations of sexual violence, after a complaint filed by a 19-year-old young man and corroborated by a witness against Father Antonios.
The Greek government decided to react quickly. After a council of ministers on Monday, he decided to replace the administration of the NGO. “The complaints that have been made of abusive behavior are very serious, but until the investigation is completed, we must ensure the proper functioning of the structures”said the deputy minister for social protection, Domna Michailidou, justifying that the homes do not close completely.
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