Sexual Abuse of Children by Aid Workers and UN Peacekeepers Too Often Unreported
Tuesday, May 27, 2008 2:46 PM

Sexual abuse of children by aid workers and UN peacekeepers too often unreported

Save the Children UK calls for new global watchdog

Tuesday 27 May 2008

A new report released today by Save the Children UK shows that children living in conflict-affected countries fear to report sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping troops and humanitarian aid workers.

Despite recent political commitments by governments and international organisations to tackle this problem, the report exposes the chronic under-reporting of such abuse, which leaves many children around the world suffering in silence.
Children told Save the Children UK that they were too afraid to report the abuse, frightened that if they did the abuser might come back and hurt them, that aid agencies might stop helping them, or that they might be stigmatised by their family and community, or even punished by them. This suggests that for every case of abuse that is identified, there are likely to be many more that go unreported.

Save the Children UK's research in Ivory Coast, Southern Sudan and Haiti shows that children as young as six are being abused by adults working for the international community. The children interviewed highlighted many different types of abuse, including trading food for sex, rape, child prostitution, pornography, indecent sexual assault and trafficking of children for sex. 
"People don't report it because they are worried that the agency will stop working here, and we need them", explained a teenage boy in Southern Sudan.

To combat the problem, Save the Children UK makes three recommendations that are under discussion with the UN Task Force on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse:

  • Effective local complaints mechanisms to be set up by the UN  in the countries in which there is a significant international presence, so that children and/or their parents are able to report abuses carried out by those acting on behalf of the international community and get decisive action taken against the perpetrators.
  • The establishment of a new global watchdog to monitor and evaluate the efforts of international agencies to tackle this abuse and to champion more effective responses
  • Increased investment in tackling the underlying causes of sexual abuse, for example support for legal reforms, public education and awareness raising, and the development of national child protection systems.

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children UK, said:

"This research exposes the despicable actions of a small number of perpetrators who are sexually abusing some of the most vulnerable children in the world, the very children they are meant to protect. It is hard to imagine a more grotesque abuse of authority or flagrant violation of children's rights.

"In recent years, some important commitments have been made by the UN, the wider international community and by humanitarian and aid agencies to act on this problem. But welcome as these are, in most cases statements of principle and good intent have yet to be converted into really decisive and concerted international action."
The report reveals that the perpetrators of sexual abuse of children can be found in every type of humanitarian, peace and security organisation, at every grade of staff, and among both locally recruited and international staff.

Whitbread continued:

"Obviously the vast majority of aid workers are not involved in any form of abuse or exploitation, but in life-saving essential humanitarian work. 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."


For more information and interviews, please contact the Save the Children UK media unit on:
+44 207 012 6841 / +44 7831 650 409 (24-hour line) or at

Published in:  "Sexual Abuse of Children by Aid Workers and UN Peacekeepers Too Often Unreported," Press Release, Save the Children UK, 27 May 2008.