Aid Workers Abusing Those They're Sent to Help?

This week, Save the Children UK released a disturbing report entitled, "No One To Turn To."  The investigation -- its results alleging child abuse in the form of sexual molestation, among other violations -- was conducted by researchers who met with 250 children between the ages of 10 and 17 who have had experiences with international aid workers.  According to the Associated Press,

"The report said more than half the children interviewed knew of cases of coerced sex and improper sexual touching and that in many instances children knew of 10 or more such incidents carried out by aid workers or peacekeepers."

Importantly, researchers chose three distinct areas based on a heavy concentration of international aid workers.  The children interviewed were from southern Sudan, Haiti, and the Ivory Coast -- three areas that have been struck by economic and political dissension and hardship.  The most disturbing pieces of the abuse center on the helplessness of those children who were exploited as well as the ability of aid workers to escape oversight and accountability.

However, social stigmas were also powerful enablers that led to secrecy, as the majority of those children interviewed reported that they would, themselves, never report a case; they also reported that they have never heard of a case being reported.  According to the report, potential retaliation, social stigmas associated with sexual abuse and other associated detriments were "powerful determinants to coming forward."

"The report details many types of abuse allegedly committed by peacekeepers and aid workers, including trading food for sex, coerced sex, improper touching and kissing, forced prostitution and using children for pornographic purposes."

While U.N. workers have allegedly been involved in some of the abuse, the problem is rampant in other governing bodies as well.  In fact, the U.N. has taken steps to combat the issue.  With this in mind, the Save the Children report is simply a reminder of a lack of sufficient progress.  Clearly, the only sufficiency in this case would be an end to these horrific actions.

Concerning remedies, Save the Children makes three distinct recommendations.  First, they recommend that adequate local complaint systems be implemented inside each country to allow individuals to report abuses.  Secondly, a global watchdog is proposed to assist in regulating and monitoring this issue.  Lastly, a strengthened child protection system at the national level is proposed.

It's unfortunate that such abuses have occurred within organizations that have set out to make waves of change.  Only the future holds the answers to preventing such atrocious misconduct.