Colum Lynch / Washington Post – 2008-05-27 23:00:16
UNITED NATIONS (May 27, 2008) — UN peacekeepers and international aid workers from 23 organizations have engaged in sexual exploitation of children, including some as young as 6, in Haiti, Ivory Coast and South Sudan, according to a report by Save the Children, a British-based aid agency.
The organization said its findings, combined with reports of similar abuse elsewhere, suggest that efforts to rein in such abuse over the past decade have failed. It concluded that sexual abuse of children — often involving exchanges of food for sex — probably occurs in virtually every post-conflict zone, and it called for creation of a global watchdog organization to probe such abuse.
“Our research suggests that significant levels of abuse of boys and girls continue in emergencies, with much of it going unreported,” said the report, titled “No One to Turn To.” “The victims include orphans, children separated from their parents and families, and children in families dependent on humanitarian assistance.”
The 28-page report — based on interviews with 250 children ages 10 to 17 — concluded that it is impossible to know the extent of the problem, since few victims report abuse and few UN agencies or private charities compile data on abuse by their personnel. Save the Children acknowledged receiving eight allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors last year by its own field staff, including three that were proven to have merit and led to the perpetrators’ dismissal.
“Who would we tell?” said one Haitian boy, explaining why victims of sexual abuse seldom report the crime. “We wouldn’t tell the police because they are afraid of the [UN] peacekeepers. . . . Anyway, I’ve heard that the police do this.”
UN peacekeepers have been “identified as a particular source of abuse,” especially in Haiti and Ivory Coast, according to the report. But it praised the UN peacekeeping department for exhibiting “managerial courage and transparency” in making the allegations public.
The United Nations ordered the repatriation of more than 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers from Haiti in November, after reports that they had sexually exploited local women and underage girls. Last summer, Moroccan peacekeepers in Ivory Coast came under investigation for sexually abusing local woman and minors.
Those cases follow a spate of reports on sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers and aid workers stretching back to Cambodia in the early 1990s. Reports of sexual abuse plagued UN missions over the past eight years in Bosnia, Congo, Liberia and several other countries.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the report’s frank assessment and said abuse by peacekeepers and aid workers is “a very serious issue.” He vowed to investigate the allegations and take any “necessary measures.”
Jasmine Whitbread, the chief executive of the British relief agency, said the United Nations and others have made commitments to resolving the problem in the past — without success.
“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,” she said.
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