In what is perhaps nothing short of a horrifying report, Save the Children today announced the results of a research initiative revealing an epidemic level of sexual abuse of the world's neediest children by none other than aid workers.
The report, released just today, by the 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, although most were between 14- 15 years of age. The research involved 38 focus group discussions with 250 children and 90 adults, followed up by in-depth interviews with some and desk-based research. 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.
Anecdotal evidence from all 38 focus groups suggested there was an endemic failure to respond to reports of abuse.
"Many U.N. agencies and NGOs working here feel they cannot be touched by anyone," said an aid worker in Ivory Coast.
The UN was quick to respond to the findings:
"We are glad that Save the Children continues to shed a light on this problem. It actually follows up on a report that we did in 2002 with Save the Children. I think every population in the world has to confront this problem of exploitation and abuse of children," said Ron Redmond, chief spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland.
"The United Nations has a zero-tolerance policy. It's one that UNHCR takes very, very seriously. In refugee camps, we have implemented very strong reporting mechanisms so that refugees can come forward to report any abuses or alleged abuses."
Although the UN asserts mechanism are in place - the study shows evidence otherwise, and points to an ongoing epidemic of neglect to the situation. Five years ago, in 2003, U.N. Nepalese troops were accused of sexual abuse while serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Six soldiers were later jailed. A year later, two U.N. peace keepers were repatriated after being accused of abuse in Burundi, while U.N. troops also were accused of rape and sexual abuse in Sudan. Just last year, the U.N. launched an investigation into sexual abuse claims in the Ivory Coast
To combat the problem, Save the Children UK made three recommendations in follow up to the report. These recommendations are currently under discussion with the UN Task Force on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse:
- The establishment of effective local complaints mechanisms to be set up by the UN in the countries in which there is a significant international presence
- 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
- Increased 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.
It is astonishing to believe that such crimes against the neediest children could be happening by the very parties who are there to protect them. To add insult to injury, the fact that thousands of concerned individuals who have donated money to such organizations have indirectly helped fund what is ultimately criminal behavior. There has been no mention on weather agencies already have, or plan to implement, proper care and rehabilitation for victims of such heinous crimes.
*Video report on the findings courtesy of Reuters
(Sources: Reuters, Relief Web, NPR)