More on Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepers and Aid Workers

by Kevin Jon Heller

Allegations of sexual abuse continue to plague peacekeepers and aid workers in Africa. A study conducted by Save the Children, based on interviews with more than 300 people, has concluded that selling young women for sex has reached epidemic proportions in Liberian camps for the displaced:

The children and adults who participated in the study were very open and willing to talk about the subject. Given that the FGDs were independent of one another, the findings demonstrated remarkable consistency. The results of the study show a high level of children involved in ‘selling sex’1 (as the respondents put it, ‘man business’). Respondents estimated that a high proportion of girls, in both the camps and returnee communities, are involved. The girls reportedly ranged in age from eight to eighteen years, with girls of 12 years and upwards identified as being regularly involved in ‘selling sex’.

Reference was consistently made to men with money or status being involved in this exploitation. Camp officials, humanitarian workers, businessmen, peacekeepers, government employees and even teachers were frequently cited.

Most people cited lack of economic and livelihood opportunities, as well as chronic poverty, as underlying causes for the ongoing exploitation of children. Parents reported feeling powerless to stop children who were having sex in exchange for goods and services as they did not have the economic means to provide for their children. In some instances, families cited that transactional sex was a means of supporting the wider family to access things such as food or money to purchase food. In other instances, children identified more personal needs such as clothing or being able to access video clubs to watch films. The widespread nature of the problem meant it affected children in a broad cross section of environments, including entertainment centres, latrines, video clubs, bush land surrounding camps, even homes and where distributions take place.

The UN has promised to investigate specific allegations of sexual abuse — although it’s worth noting that the UN made similar promises after similar allegations were first raised in Liberia nearly four years ago.

In related news, the UN Development Fund for Women has announced that it will participate in the African Union commission established to investigate reports of sexual violence, including rape and child abuse, by AU peacekeepers monitoring the conflict in Darfur. I discussed the establishment of the commission, formally known as the Committee of Inquiry, here.

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