Aid agencies 'must tackle child sex abuse head on'

Save the Children is calling for an international watchdog to monitor charities and the UN after finding that children as young as six are suffering sexual abuse at the hands of aid workers.

No One to Turn To, a Save the Children report released on 27 May, reveals that the charity is aware of several cases of charity workers and UN peacekeepers abusing children in the Ivory Coast, Sudan and Haiti. Between July 2006 and July 2007, Save the Children investigated eight of its own staff and dismissed three.

Save the Children said cases of abuse go unreported because people fear aid agencies will withdraw their support. It wants to see more effective complaints mechanisms, including an international watchdog to monitor aid workers. It also called for legal reforms and education programmes to help people in affected countries to report problems.

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children, said: “Obviously the vast majority of aid workers are not involved. 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.”

NGOs back the report

Oxfam, Christian Aid and ActionAid backed the report's call for a watchdog.

Jane Cocking, Oxfam's humanitarian director, said: "Oxfam takes a zero tolerance approach: allegations are thoroughly investigated, and such investigations resulted in the dismissal of three staff in 2006/2007. We believe in transparency around this issue, which is why we publish these figures in our Annual Accountability report. We support Save the Children’s calls for a global watchdog. We will do all we can to stamp out this intolerable abuse.”

A Christian Aid spokeswoman said vetting local staff was difficult. "Overseas there is often no method of carrying out criminal records checks so we're just going by recommendation," she said. "We would support any measures which would minimize the chances of abuse occurring, including the creation of a watchdog body. We're not aware of any incidents involving our own staff, and if any did come to light we'd take them very seriously."

An Action Aid spokeswoman added: "We absolutely think that Save the Children is right to call for action. This sends out a message that all agencies should be treated the same and should be held to account the same way. It’s not just about doing the right thing, it’s about being seen to do the right thing."

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