International aid agencies in Africa wide food-for-sex scandal

“These NGO workers are clever, they use the ration as bait to get you to have sex with them.”

Refugees in a Sierra Leone camp. Picture: Getty Images.Refugees in a Sierra Leone camp.

Women in a camp in Guinea told the research team: “In this community no one can get corn soya blend [a staple foodstuff] without having sex first. They say ‘a kilo for sex’.”

In Liberia a teenage girl said: “These NGO workers are clever, they use the ration as bait to get you to have sex with them.”

Sex was demanded in return not just for food but for basic aid such as access to education classes, textbooks and pencils, soap, shoes, material for shelters and temporary jobs. Sometimes girls were given tiny amounts of money, the equivalent of 10 US cents.

For six weeks in October and November 2001, a team of researchers toured refugee camps in the Mano River states of west Africa — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — to examine the extent of sexual exploitation of children in refugee camps.

They gathered children, mothers and healthcare workers together, often sitting under trees in the shade, and gently asked questions. Mostly, however, they listened and were appalled by what they heard. “We were shocked after the first assessment in Liberia,” recalled Christine Lipohar, a co-author of a report that has never been published but which has found a dozen international aid organisations are implicated in a sex-for-food scandal.

“Then when we arrived in Guinea and started hearing more of the same thing, it was even more of a shock. I recall feeling a strong sense of shame that humanitarian staff were implicated in this way, given that I was a ‘member’ of that same group of people.”

The Times has obtained a copy of the 84-page document produced by research teams working in refugee camps in west Africa for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children in 2001. It identified more than 40 aid organisations “whose workers are alleged to be in sexually exploitative relationships with refugee children”.

Many were small local charities but the list included 15 international organisations including the UNHCR and the World Food Programme and the British charities Save the Children and Merlin. International NGOs including Medecins Sans Frontieres, Care International, the International Rescue Committee, the International Federation of Red Cross Societies and the Norwegian Refugee Council were also named in the report.

Women in a camp in Guinea told the research team: “In this community no one can get corn soya blend [a staple foodstuff] without having sex first. They say ‘a kilo for sex’.”

In Liberia a teenage girl said: “These NGO workers are clever, they use the ration as bait to get you to have sex with them.”

Sex was demanded in return not just for food but for basic aid such as access to education classes, textbooks and pencils, soap, shoes, material for shelters and temporary jobs. Sometimes girls were given tiny amounts of money, the equivalent of 10 US cents.

A refugee leader in Guinea told the authors: “If you see a young girl walking away with tarpaulin on her head you know how she got it.”

The full 84-page report was submitted to the management of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2002 but has never been published, perhaps because its identification of so many agencies was considered too damaging to a sector that depends on public donations.

The Times has obtained the report and a copy is in the hands of the House of Commons international development committee, which is examining sexual exploitation in the humanitarian sector. The report has become a key part of the inquiry, with charity heads asked why it did not lead to real change.

The 2001 research team spoke to about 1,500 people and documented allegations of exploitation and abuse against 67 individuals. The inquiry focused on established camps where displaced people from Liberia and Sierra Leone had sought safety and shelter. Researchers found that “unprecedented power” was concentrated in the hands of locally hired NGO staff, while international officials rarely left their headquarters.

“Agency workers from local and international NGOs as well as UN agencies are among the prime sexual exploiters of refugee children often using the very humanitarian assistance and services intended to benefit refugees as a tool of exploitation,” the report said.

“Male national staff were reported to trade humanitarian commodities and services, including medication, oil, bulgur wheat, plastic sheeting, education courses, skills-training, school supplies etc, in exchange for sex with girls under 18. Allegations were documented against a wide range of organisations and individuals as they emerged, unexpectedly but systematically, during the course of the study.”

The report’s authors stressed that “these allegations require further investigation”.

Many parents told the research team that the only way “to make ends meet” in the camps was to allow a teenage daughter to be exploited. “If your family does not have a girl, your family is in crisis,” one woman in Sierra Leone said.

The report spoke of a “code of silence” among aid workers who would not report sexual assaults or exploitation by colleagues. Refugees could not report offences because they would have to go through the perpetrators.

It added: “The study team did not hear of a case of sexual exploitation by agency workers which has been reported and prosecuted. There had not been a case in which a staff member of an agency has been fired because of their sexually exploitative behaviour.”

Confidential notes on the specific allegations were prepared for UNHCR management in Geneva while Save The Children researchers wrote the final report. Some details were leaked to the media in February 2002, prompting political outrage and demands for action. Task forces were established, the issue was debated at the UN General Assembly and aid agencies drew up new codes of conduct. Yet, at the same time, Ruud Lubbers, then head of UNHCR, questioned the report’s findings. Asmita Naik, another of the report’s authors, has told the IDC that Lubbers ran “a very negative campaign against the report”.

Lubbers, who resigned in 2005 amid sexual harassment allegations, asked the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to conduct a separate inquiry. It reported that the “widespread sexual exploitation of refugees has not been confirmed” yet at the same time recorded 43 new allegations and confirmed “the problem of sexual exploitation of refugees is real”.

Although the UN and NGOs passed motions and held conferences, the sexual exploitation of vulnerable people by humanitarian workers continued. In 2011 Oxfam investigated and covered up the activities of several of its staff in Haiti who were paying local women for sex in the aftermath of the previous year’s earthquake.

When this newspaper exposed the Oxfam scandal three months ago there was international outrage and demands for reform across the sector. Yet the existence of the 2002 west Africa report suggests that reform could have been enacted years ago and the scandal in Haiti should never have happened.

The Times

2 thoughts on “International aid agencies in Africa wide food-for-sex scandal”

  1. International aid agencies in Africa wide food-for-sex scandal” [sic]

    Wasn’t sex benefits favours the reason that UK Police and Welfare agency workers allowed the islam grooming gangs to continue !!!
    … and has been reported by some UK press outlets
    (UK Police and Welfare agency workers like to claim that they were afraid of being branded racist or causing riots … sure) !!!

    NB: Riots (or threats of) are one method the invader islams control their “being invaded countries populations” … after being invited in by the monarchy !!!

    Britain and Islam – the real special relationship
    (especially fostered by Queen Elizabeth I) !!!

    1. populations Treasonous/Seditious/Subversive politicians + judiciary+ bureaucrats+(w)academics

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