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Sexual Abuse Of Children By Aid Workers Unreported

Sexual abuse of children by aid workers too often unreported

A new report released today by Save the Children UK shows that children living in conflict-affected countries fear to report sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping troops and humanitarian aid workers.

Despite recent political commitments by governments and international organisations to tackle this problem, the report exposes the chronic under-reporting of such abuse, which leaves many children around the world suffering in silence.

Children told Save the Children UK that they were too afraid to report the abuse, frightened that if they did the abuser might come back and hurt them, that aid agencies might stop helping them, or that they might be stigmatised by their family and community, or even punished by them. This suggests that for every case of abuse that is identified, there are likely to be many more that go unreported.

Save the Children UK's research in Ivory Coast, Southern Sudan and Haiti shows that children as young as six are being abused by adults working for the international community. The children interviewed highlighted many different types of abuse, including trading food for sex, rape, child prostitution, pornography, indecent sexual assault and trafficking of children for sex.

"People don't report it because they are worried that the agency will stop working here, and we need them", explained a teenage boy in Southern Sudan.

To combat the problem, Save the Children UK makes three recommendations that are under discussion with the UN Task Force on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse:

- Effective local complaints mechanisms to be set up by the UN in the countries in which there is a significant international presence, so that children and/or their parents are able to report abuses carried out by those acting on behalf of the international community and get decisive action taken against the perpetrators.

- The establishment of a new global watchdog to monitor and evaluate the efforts of international agencies to tackle this abuse and to champion more effective responses

I- ncreased investment in tackling the underlying causes of sexual abuse, for example support for legal reforms, public education and awareness raising, and the development of national child protection systems.

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children UK, said:

"This research exposes the despicable actions of a small number of perpetrators who are sexually abusing some of the most vulnerable children in the world, the very children they are meant to protect. It is hard to imagine a more grotesque abuse of authority or flagrant violation of children's rights.

"In recent years, some important commitments have been made by the UN, the wider international community and by humanitarian and aid agencies to act on this problem. But welcome as these are, in most cases statements of principle and good intent have yet to be converted into really decisive and concerted international action."

The report reveals that the perpetrators of sexual abuse of children can be found in every type of humanitarian, peace and security organisation, at every grade of staff, and among both locally recruited and international staff.

Whitbread continued:

"Obviously the vast majority of aid workers are not involved in any form of abuse or exploitation, but in life-saving essential humanitarian work. However all humanitarian and peacekeeping agencies working in emergency situations, including Save the Children UK, must own up to the fact that they are vulnerable to this problem and tackle it head on."



No one to turn to: The under-reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers and peacekeepers


I Introduction

In this report we focus on ways to improve the international community’s response to the sexual exploitation and abuse of children by aid workers, peacekeepers and others acting on their behalf in emergencies. Every instance of such abuse is a gross violation of children’s rights and a betrayal of the core principles of humanitarian action. (1)

This report draws particular attention to the problem of the under-reporting of such abuse and addresses a range of related issues. It is not a detailed technical document, but aims to bring new evidence into discussions among policy-makers, politicians and those grappling at the local level with the obstacles to effective action.

Our research suggests that significant levels of abuse of boys and girls continue in emergencies, with much of it going unreported.The victims include orphans, children separated from their parents and families, and children in families dependent on humanitarian assistance.The existence of this problem has been widely known since 2002 and various positive steps have begun to be taken to eliminate it. A high level conference in New York in December 2006, attended by the UN Secretary General, reaffirmed the commitment of UN agencies and other international actors to vigorous action.

Save the Children welcomes the many initiatives and actions taken since 2002.These include the development of codes of conduct, better interagency cooperation, new mechanisms to encourage the reporting of abuse and a proactive response, and the preparation of training, information and guidance material. Collectively these measures represent a serious attempt to respond to an issue that only recently became visible.

Crucially, however, many of these measures are dependent on the willingness and ability of children and their carers to report the abuse they experience. If this is not assured, then the system as a whole will remain fundamentally flawed. Evidence from three countries suggests that much more needs to be done by international actors to encourage and support reporting by children and adults so that local communities have confidence in the new system.

Breaking the silence surrounding this problem is an essential step towards its elimination. Our research suggests that children and their families are not speaking out because of a mix of stigma, fear, ignorance and powerlessness. In addition, it appears that at the grassroots level international agencies are not yet perceived as responding effectively to allegations – with the consequence that victims and others cannot see the point of reporting abuse.Together, these two factors are a major impediment to stamping out this problem.

The report concludes that there are three important gaps in existing efforts to curb abuse and exploitation.

1. Communities – especially children and young people – are not being adequately supported and encouraged to speak out about the abuse against them.

2. There is a need for even stronger leadership on this issue in many parts of the international system – notably to ensure that good practices and new procedures are taken up and implemented.

3. There is an acute lack of investment in tackling the underlying causes of child sexual exploitation and abuse in communities – abuse not just by those working on behalf of the international community but by a whole range of local actors. (2)

Our recommendations (summarised overleaf), which are presented more fully later in this report, seek to respond to these challenges.


- Effective local complaints mechanisms should be set up in-country to enable people to report abuses against them.

- A new global watchdog should be established to monitor and evaluate the efforts of international agencies to tackle this abuse and to champion more effective responses.

- Tackling the root causes or drivers of abuse should become a greater priority for governments, donors and others in the international community, including the development of stronger child protection systems at the national level.

Save the Children does not claim to have all the answers, or to be immune to this problem. Indeed, awareness of the difficulty of stamping this out in our own organisation is a driving force behind this report. We do believe, however, that eliminating this abuse is a key responsibility of every international actor.


(1) Protection rights are enshrined within the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child 1989 (UNCRC), the UN Declaration of Human Rights and universal humanitarian standards.

(2) For more information on the links between child sexual abuse and exploitation committed by the local and international community, see Save the Children UK, From Camp to Community, Liberia study on exploitation of children, 2006. For more information on child sexual abuse committed more broadly, see Save the Children Norway, Listen and Speak out against Sexual Abuse of Girls and Boys: 10 Essential Learning Points, Global Submission by the International Save the Children Alliance to the UN Study on Violence against Children, 2005.

FULL REPORT: No One To Turn To (PDF Format - 457.2 Kbytes)


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