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Food aid for sex scandal in West Africa

A disturbing report compiled by leading aid agencies alleges aid workers from more than 40 agencies in west Africa have been involved in extensive sexual exploitation of refugee children, offering food rations in return for favours. Children specifically interviewed by the UNHCR and Save the Children UK in refugee camps in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone accuse not just aid workers of sexual abuse, but claim they have also been exploited by UN peacekeepers and community leaders. In testimonies taken mainly from girls under 18, more than 40 agencies were named. Many of the girls said they believed they had to provide sexual favours in order to get rations; they did not know it was actually their right to receive food aid. Many also spoke of negotiating sex for shelter, education and medicine. The problem is deemed worst in places where there are well established aid programmes and is particularly pronounced in refugee camps in Guinea and Liberia.

UNHCR and Save the Children UK said they had made details from the report available because of the disturbing nature of the allegations, the apparent scope of the problem and the need for immediate and coordinated remedial measures by a wide range of agencies.

The report states: “Most of the alleged exploiters were male national staff who traded humanitarian commodities and services for sex with girls under 18”. But the two agencies said the assessment team could not verify the allegations. Measures will now be introduced by Save the Children UK and UNHCR to combat child abuse in the region. Security will be increased and more female staff will be employed in the camps.

Adapted from an article published in the Guardian newspaper, Gillan A. and Moszynski P. 27th February 2002. “Aid Workers in food for child sex scandal”

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Food aid for sex scandal in West Africa. Field Exchange 15, April 2002. p14. www.ennonline.net/fex/15/foodaid