Sexual abuse by aid workers in poor countries is STILL going on three years after Oxfam Haiti

Sexual abuse of women in poorer countries by aid workers has got worse during the coronavirus pandemic, MPs have suggested in a damning report.

Three-quarters of those surveyed by the Commons international development committee believe abuse of aid recipients is still going on – three years after the Oxfam Haiti abuse scandal emerged.

A quarter of the 64 mainly aid workers polled said they had witnessed suspected abuse of those receiving aid.

Labour MP Sarah Champion, the committee’s chairman, said abuse in the aid sector was still ‘rife’ and that it was the ‘last safe haven’ for perpetrators.

MPs have suggested sexual abuse of women in poorer countries has got worse during the pandemic

MPs have suggested sexual abuse of women in poorer countries has got worse during the pandemic

She said: ‘Aid beneficiaries, by their very nature, are the most vulnerable people on the planet.

‘I have huge admiration for the aid sector, but it needs to wake up to what is going on and embed safeguarding within all of its programmes.

‘Our inquiry has found that abuse of beneficiaries is rife, and that the sector has effectively become the last safe haven for perpetrators.

‘Throughout the inquiry we heard repeatedly of abusers acting with impunity, whistleblowers being hounded out of their jobs, and victims finding it impossible to secure justice.’

Labour MP Sarah Champion, the Commons international development committee's  chairman, said abuse in the aid sector was still ‘rife'

Labour MP Sarah Champion, the Commons international development committee’s  chairman, said abuse in the aid sector was still ‘rife’

The MPs’ report warned that – despite the changes introduced since the Haiti scandal – perpetrators were still escaping with impunity.

They found that sexual exploiters may still be being rehired in the aid sector because employment schemes designed to exclude them can lack robust investigations.

They also warned that schemes to prevent abusers being re-employed may lead to retaliation against those who raise legitimate concerns.

The MPs urged against the reduction of aid because of the coronavirus pandemic, saying it could make women even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

The committee members noted that the government has made significant efforts to support schemes designed to prevent perpetrators of exploitation and abuse from being re-hired in the aid sector.

But, they said, the ‘lack of capacity’ in the sector and an ‘absence of common standards’ means the outcomes of investigations are ‘unreliable’.

‘Therefore, there is a risk that the employment cycle schemes could be used to retaliate against people who raise legitimate concerns and they might fail to properly identify and prevent the re-employment of perpetrators,’ they wrote.

The Foreign Office must review the cost and effectiveness of the ‘employment cycle schemes’ to prevent abusers being re-employed in the sector, the MPs urged.

The committee acknowledged it is ‘difficult to estimate how widespread the problem’ of exploitation is, but pointed to a small survey to suggest it ‘is still a problem’.

Some 73 per cent of 64 mainly aid workers who responded said they believe there is still a widespread problem of aid workers perpetrating acts of exploitation and abuse against aid recipients.

Twenty-six per cent said they had witnessed suspected sexual exploitation or abuse of aid recipients, and 57 per cent they believed whistleblowing procedures were inadequate.

The MPs also raised concerns that non-disclosure agreements could be used to ‘cover up misconduct’.

Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, said: ‘The IDC’s report makes for sombre reading.

‘No-one should ever be exposed to harm or abuse, but when the victims of abuse are among the most vulnerable in the world, it is especially shocking, and betrays the very purpose and ethos of international aid.’

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