UK study highlights child abuse by humanitarian workers

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A study by the non-profit organisation Save the Children UK claims that a number of aid workers and peacekeepers from organisations such as the United Nations and Save the Children itself have engaged in sexual abuse of children in the course of their humanitarian efforts. The study also says that many of these incidents remain unreported, and those involved often go unpunished.

The study was based on field data from Sudan, Ivory Coast and Haiti, where they held focus groups followed by in-depth interviews. In 20 of the 38 focus groups, United Nations representatives were the main perpetrators of sexual abuse, possibly due to the larger number of peacekeepers than aid workers, but 23 organisations were identified as being involved across the three countries.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon
Image: Agência Brasil.

While 14 and 15 year olds were the most common victims, the study found cases of abuse in children as young as 6. Most offenders were men, and most of the victims were girls. One 14-year-old boy who works in a peacekeeping camp on the Ivory Coast told the study that "[o]ften it will be between eight and 10 men who will share two or three girls".

An "overwhelming" majority of those interviewed said they would never report a case of abuse, and did not know of anyone who had reported a case, despite more than half knowing of incidents of sexual abuse, and many knowing of 10 or more. The study reported that unless this silence was dealt with, any attempts to eliminate the abuse would be "fundamentally flawed".

"[The U.N.] will very carefully investigate and whenever there is necessary matters we will take necessary measures from this".

—United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

In response to the study, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the organisation's policy on such abuse was "zero tolerance." The U.N. "will very carefully investigate and whenever there is necessary matters we will take necessary measures from this". Both Save the Children and the U.N. have pointed out that, while it does not reduce the seriousness of the offences, the offenders represent a small proportion of all peacekeepers and aid workers in foreign countries. As the U.N. does not have any prosecutory powers of its own, peacekeepers found to be involved in child sexual abuse are either fired or sent back to their home countries to face prosecution.


  Learn more about Human rights and Save the Children on Wikipedia.