LONDON –- The head of the scandal-hit BBC said Tuesday that the broadcaster is investigating allegations of sexual abuse or harassment against several of its staff members, apart from recent revelations about a popular children’s show host who may have molested scores of young girls over decades.
Under pointed questioning by members of Parliament, Director General George Entwistle acknowledged that the British Broadcasting Corp.’s reputation and integrity have been badly undermined by the snowballing scandal over the late Jimmy Savile, the star presenter now suspected of having been a serial child molester.
“This is a gravely serious matter,” Entwistle said, “and one cannot look back at it with anything other than horror.”
He also said that a BBC news program’s probe into accusations against Savile should not have been shelved by a senior editor who considered the story too weak. That editor was forced to step down Monday pending the outcome of an independent inquiry into why the investigation was called off weeks before the segment was to be broadcast late last year, around the same time that the BBC aired glowing tributes to Savile, who had died a couple of months before.
MOSCOW -- The young mother cried when she heard the verdict Tuesday: eight years for leaving her baby in the middle of a busy highway at night, where she was expecting him to be run over and killed.
She knows it was wrong, she said. If she had a second chance, she wouldn't do it again. But eight years was too much.
"Everyone makes mistakes," she said, tears streaming down her face.
Last June, after an alcohol-fueled fight with her parents, 24-year-old Yelena Osina and her brother Alexander, 21, took the younger of her two children, 9-month-old Roma, out to the poorly lighted highway, where cars often travel at high speeds. After placing him in the middle of the road, they hid in the bushes nearby.
But 10 minutes later, as Roma crawled on the highway, he appeared in a driver's headlights. The driver stopped and called the police. The siblings were arrested, charged with attempted murder and pleaded guilty.
When they were sentenced Tuesday, Alexander -- who physically placed Roma on the road -- received nine years in a maximum security prison.
Russian news reports said Osina and her family had traveled to Moscow from the Ulyanovsk region, about 550 miles to the east, to look for work. She was unemployed and living in a tiny, ramshackle trailer outside the Russian capital with her brother, mother and father, and two sons -- Roma and 2-year-old Artem.
Roma's father left soon after the boy was born, Osina's father told Channel One television. Osina testified that she decided to kill Roma after a fight with her parents. The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets reported that the family criticized her for having children who kept the family mired in poverty.
Roma and Artem are now living with a foster family, who declined to appear in public and told Channel One they have no plans to tell the baby his mother tried to kill him.
REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- The uncontrolled weeping of a teenage mother whose baby was missing tore at the heart of an entire nation.
Through inconsolable grief, Svetlana Shkaptsova, 19, told her TV interviewer that one week earlier she had left her 9-month-old daughter in a stroller outside a pet store while she ducked in to pick up some cat food. When she returned just five minutes later, baby and stroller were gone.
More than 1,000 police officers from the region surrounding in the industrial city of Bryansk, 240 miles southwest of Moscow, along with hundreds of volunteers, launched a massive search March 11. Every attic and basement in town was examined. Mothers with babies were checked. A nearby Gypsy camp was thoroughly tossed.
Only an empty pram was found outside a house near the pet food store.
In the Russian24 TV report, Shkaptsova stood in a small room near a sofa brimming with toys. “We go out every day to buy toys, waiting for her to come back home,” she said through endless tears.
“I am begging ... return my child,” the nursing school dropout pleaded. “We are waiting for her and we love her.”
Then police administered a polygraph test. And the story took a dramatic turn.
A week before the baby was reported missing, police now say, Shkaptsova and the baby’s father, Alexander Kulagin, 31, got into a drunken brawl. He beat up Shkaptsova, then hit the child and kicked her out of her perambulator, said Vladimir Markin, the Russian Investigative Committee spokesman.
The child was severely injured, but Kulagin would not permit Shkaptsova to leave the house or call an ambulance, Markin said. The baby died the next day, Markin said investigators were told. Kulagin -- who has two children he is not allowed to see from a first marriage, and two children from two other girlfriends -- told interrogators that he could not bury the baby’s body because the ground was frozen, so he incinerated the corpse in a campfire. He later buried the remains at his grandmother’s grave.
For the next week, Shkaptsova roamed the streets pushing an empty stroller, pretending her child was still alive for the benefit of witnesses, police said. When she entered the pet food store March 11, Kulagin, dressed as a woman and wearing a wig, rolled the pram away, leaving Shkaptsova to call the police and begin the gruesome charade.
Pavel Astakhov, a Russian children’s ombudsman and renowned lawyer, said Friday that he would seek the maximum life sentence in this case, and push for the death penalty for such crimes in the future.
“If the president finds it necessary,” Astakhov said, “we may cancel the moratorium” on the death penalty.
REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- The International Criminal Court in the Hague on Wednesday found former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty of using children as soldiers, the first verdict in the panel's 10-year history. He could face life imprisonment.
After a three-year trial, the court convicted Lubanga of recruiting boys and girls as soldiers during a civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003.
The verdict was seen as a major breakthrough in forcing warlords and politicians to be accountable for atrocities and crimes against humanity, sending a message that international justice eventually would catch up with them.
Three victims gave evidence during the trial, while others participated indirectly, such as by making submissions to the court. The evidence said girls forcibly recruited by Lubanga were used as sex slaves, while videos aired in court showed Lubanga surrounded by child combatants.
REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG -- You see them, night and day, in nearly every African city. They are ragged children dodging between the cars: beggars, shoeshine boys, teenage prostitutes, petty traders and porters carrying loads on their heads with thin, pinched faces and anxious eyes.
They tap on car windows, begging, and wait by the highway desperate to sell their goods.
Around half the people in the world live in cities and towns, a billion of them children, as the urban population spirals. Millions of children live in slums and shantytowns and they're dying of the same illnesses that kill the rural poor, according to UNICEF: hunger, diarrhea and disease caused by poor sanitation and overcrowding.
Many of the urban poor don't go to school, according to a UNICEF's report on the state of the world's children. Instead they work, often in dangerous or exploitative jobs. Some 115 million of the world's children work in hazardous jobs, the report said.
Like the rural poor, slum children often lack access to water, electricity and health facilities.
According to the report, the plight of the the urban poor has been overlooked, their poverty concealed in statistics that indicate that, on average, children in urban settings are better off.
"The hardships endured by children in poor urban communities are often concealed, and thus perpetuated, by the statistical averages on which development programs and decisions about resouce allocation are based. Because averages lump everyone in together, the poverty of some is obscured by the wealth of others," the report said.
Some 60% of urbanized Africans live in slums, and by 2020 the global slum population will reach 1.4 billion, mainly in Africa and Asia. In Nigeria, 50% of the population lives in cities and in South Africa, 62% have fled rural areas hoping to find jobs in cities and towns.
But they often meet not just unemployment, poverty and hunger, but precarious housing, forced to live in flimsy shacks or squalid rooms with no tenant rights.
Lack of food contributes to a third of the deaths of children under 5 years old annually, according to the report. A 2004 study of 10 sub-Saharan African countries found that more than 40% of urban populations were undernourished and in several countries the figure was higher than 70%.
In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, two-thirds of the population lives in sprawling slums where the under-5 mortality rate is "alarming" the report said, at 151 per thousand live births.
"Poor water supply and sanitation, the use of hazardous cooking fuels in badly ventilated spaces, overcrowding and the need to pay for health services, which effectively puts them out of reach of the poor, are among the major underlying causes of under-5 deaths," the report said.
People in urban slums are often forced to pay street vendors for potable water, so the cost of water can be 50 times higher than for wealthy people in the same city. A study of Kenyan urban slum dwellers in 2009 showed that, with public health facilities almost nonexistent, people used unlicensed and ramshackle private clinics offering substandard treatment.
"When we think of poverty, the image that traditionally comes to mind is that of a child in a rural village,” said UNICEF Director Anthony Lake in a statement released with the report. “But today, an increasing number of children living in slums and shantytowns are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the world, deprived of the most basic services and denied the right to thrive.
“Urbanization is a fact of life and we must invest more in cities, focusing greater attention on providing services to the children in greatest need,” Lake said.
The head of Canada’s Boy Scouts has apologized to victims of sexual abuse in the organization and announced an independent review of confidential files the group has long kept on leaders accused of molestation.
“Our sincere efforts to prevent such crimes have not always succeeded, and we are sorry for that and saddened at any resulting harm,” said Steve P. Kent, chairman of the governing board of Scouts Canada.
Kent said he has asked an outside auditing firm to review confidential records that Scouts Canada, like the Boy Scouts of America, has maintained for decades to keep known molesters out of its ranks. The two organizations are independent of each other.
Kent said the moves were sparked by recent media attention. In October, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and the Los Angeles Times published a joint investigation that found Scouts Canada and the Boy Scouts of America had failed to prevent a convicted child molester from abusing Scouts over two decades on both sides of the border, and at times had helped him cover his tracks.
Scouts Canada Chief Executive Janet Yale denied that her organization kept confidential records. She resigned abruptly in November after the CBC published proof of their existence.
The Boy Scouts of America has fought in court to keep its files from public view, arguing that they contain no information of value. On Thursday, a spokesman said the BSA has apologized to victims both publicly and privately in the past.
“We believe perpetrators of abuse should be punished to the fullest extent of the law; even suspicion of abuse must be reported by members and volunteers to law enforcement and result in immediate removal from Scouting,” the organization said in a statement.
In recent years, the BSA has been the subject of dozens of lawsuits alleging it mishandled cases of sexual abuse. Last year, an Oregon man was awarded nearly $20 million when a jury found the BSA had failed to protect him from a known molester.