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24 Feb, 2022 11:51

UK ignored ‘sex for aid’ scandal victims – watchdog

Abuse cases in the humanitarian sector remain underreported, despite efforts to tackle sexual exploitation, a watchdog has said
UK ignored ‘sex for aid’ scandal victims – watchdog

The UK government has failed to listen to victims of “sex for aid” scandals despite its efforts to address abuse in the humanitarian sector, an independent watchdog has said.

The report, released on Thursday by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), claims that the “top-down” approach taken by government officials falls short of what is required, because recipients of aid are not listened to and might remain reluctant to report abusive behavior.

ICAI said the UK “has played an important role in galvanising international action on protecting people from sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian crises,” but its commissioner Sir Hugh Bayley criticized officials for the system used.

“Its top-down approach requires those delivering UK aid to spend more time reporting back to the FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] than listening to the people they are seeking to protect and addressing their needs,” Bayley said.

The UK launched its efforts to combat sexual exploitation within the aid sector in 2018 after claims that Oxfam employees had sexually exploited victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, with Britain later holding an international safeguarding summit.

Abuse cases are still being underreported, according to the ICAI’s findings, which cited a survey in Uganda where recipients remained hesitant to report cases over concerns about the length of the investigative process and fears over corruption.

Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond, a network of UK charities and NGOs, praised “important steps” taken by the FCDO but said that efforts had been hampered by the lack of information “around incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse and what works where, and how to address and prevent it.”

Responding to the claims, a spokesperson for the FCDO claimed the UK is a “world leader” in addressing abusive behavior within the aid sector. “We continue to prioritise this work, protecting the most vulnerable and making sure money does not go to organisations that fall short of high safeguarding standards,” the Guardian quoted the representative as saying.