Charities that fail to tackle sex abuse 'don't deserve our funding', says report author

Asmita Naik, who co-authored a 2002 report on a sex-for-food scandal in west Africa, says some of the largest international aid agencies 'are doing little more than paying lip service' to the problem

Asmita Naik
Asmita Naik

International development charities that fail to tackle sexual exploitation "do not deserve our funding", according to the co-author of a UN report into a sex-for-food scandal in west Africa.

In a letter to The Times newspaper, Asmita Naik, an independent consultant, said she was shocked by the newspaper’s report on an unpublished 2002 report about a sex-for-food scandal, despite being one of the report’s authors.

Aid workers in more than 40 organisations were alleged to have been involved in the scandal, the newspaper said, with charities named by the newspaper including Save the Children, Care International, Action Against Hunger, Médecins Sans Frontières, the International Rescue Committee and the International Federation of Red Cross Societies.

In her letter, Naik says that "it is clear that some of the world’s largest and best-funded international agencies are doing little more than paying lip service to the problem of sexual exploitation in aid".

She says that although the issue was "categorically put on the global table in 2002", only a handful of organisations can give a "sliver of confidence that they are taking this issue seriously".

The letter says that the public and governments should consider withdrawing funding from organisations if improvements are not made.

"Either way, organisations that cannot do better do not deserve our funding," the letter says. "Donors and policy-makers need look no farther for proof that the sector is unable to police itself; only external pressure will force through desperately needed reform."

Naik also singled out the Red Cross movement in her letter, saying the Red Cross statistics on the number of sexual exploitation incidents are "beyond credible" and that "such organisations are either wilfully turning a blind eye or are grossly incompetent".

Third Sector understands that there is no single set of figures for the entire Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, which is cited in the letter. The Red Cross is made up of the International Federation of Red Cross Societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and more than 130 different Red Cross and Red Crescent branches in countries around the world.

A statement from the IFRC said that no evidence was found of Red Cross personnel being involved in the sex-for-food scandal in 2002, but the IFRC had developed a number of codes of conduct and policies to tackle sexual exploitation.

The statement said: "Over the past five years, IFRC has received a small number of complaints relating to staff misconduct. We are concerned that this may not tell the whole story.

"We know that sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation are often under-reported, and that more needs to be done to address, prevent and punish such misconduct.

"We are currently undertaking a review going back to 2000 in a bid to identify historical incidents. This work is ongoing."

Third Sector approached a number of other charities mentioned in the UN report for comment. MSF said it "recognised the gravity of the allegations against people working in the aid sector and took immediate action" in 2002, changing a number of its policies.

Save the Children said its investigation in 2001 found too little was being done to prevent and report abuse across the humanitarian sector and that it had taken action against three people at the time and made "sweeping changes".

The statement said: "Save the Children has a culture of zero tolerance for misconduct of any kind. Anyone found to be violating this policy is held to account."

The IRC said it was aware of the report at the time, and changed policies and released local workers whose involvement in the allegations was confirmed.

Action Against Hunger said that one member of staff did allegedly sell food for money and the charity had introduced a number of policies to address the issue.

Care International said it had never employed a person named in the UN report in connection with the scandal, and the report was used to improve policies and procedures at the charity.

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