peacekeepers going beyond their mandate

A report published today by NGO Save the Children UK claimed that sexual abuse of children by aid workers and peacekeepers is rife and efforts to protect young people are inadequate. It reported that significant levels of abuses occurred in emergencies, much of it going unreported. This silence is the biggest hurdle in stamping out such exploitation. 

Accusations of sexual abuse by United Nations peacekeepers and aid workers around the world have increased in recent years and the UN is investigating claims against its soldiers in hotspots such as Haiti, Liberia, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report said while the UN and some non-governmental organisations were stepping up efforts to address the problem, a global watchdog should be established this year to monitor attempts to tackle abuse and champion effective responses.

Save the Children based its findings on visits last year to Haiti, Southern Sudan and Ivory Coast. It held 38 focus group discussions with 250 children and 90 adults, followed up by in-depth interviews. The study found a huge range of exploitation and abuse: children trading sex for food, forced sex, verbal sexual abuse, child prostitution, child pornography, sexual slavery, sexual assault and child trafficking. The focus groups identified children as young as six as having been abused, although most were aged 14 to 15.

All humanitarian and peacekeeping agencies working in emergency situations, must own up to the fact that they are vulnerable to this problem and tackle it head on. More than half of the participants in the study identified incidents of sexual touching and forced sex. “They especially ask us for girls of our age. Often it will be between eight and 10 men who will share two or three girls. When I suggest an older girl, they say that they want a young girl,” a 14-year-old boy who works at a peacekeeping camp in Ivory Coast told Save the Children. The report said official UN statistics appeared to underestimate the scale of abuse, probably because so much of the exploitation was not reported by victims.

Save the Children said there were many reasons why abuse was not reported: fear of losing material assistance, threat of retribution, stigmatisation, negative economic impact, lack of legal services, resignation to abuse, lack of information about how to report abuse and, crucially, lack of faith in a response. “Many UN agencies and NGOs working here feel they cannot be touched by anyone,” said an aid worker in Ivory Coast. This is certainly not a new phenomenon, the UN reported cases of sexual abuse committed by Peacekeeping forces in the DRC in 2005, and since then has adopted a policy of ‘zero tolerance’.

We recognize that this is a structural problem and that we need to deal with it structurally and systemically and that the behaviour of a relative few has tarnished the entire reputation of peacekeeping and we will not allow that to continue to occur,” Assistant Secretary-General Jane Holl Lute told a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York following media reports of abuses in southern Sudan.


~ by k-rock and l-jive on May 27, 2008.

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