A new report by Save the Children U.K. accuses some aid workers and peacekeepers of sexually exploiting children living in countries affected by conflict and natural disaster. As Tendai Maphosa reports from London, the report says the general silence surrounding the abuse is also shocking.
Children as young as six are victims of the abuse, says the Save the Children report. It adds that the practice, though widespread, is chronically under-reported.
Save the Children's Dominic Nutt says the children rarely speak out. He says while it is difficult for any child anywhere to come forward with information on being abused it is harder for children in difficult circumstances.
"Imagine what it is like," Nutt said. "Say you are a six-year-old child in a war zone, maybe you have lost your parents, maybe they are dead, you are being looked after by aid workers in a refugee camp. All is confusion, you have no security and the only people keeping you alive with food and shelter are aid workers. If those aid workers are also abusing you, how hard is it to go to them and complain? Because the children fear that their food, their aid help will be taken away."
Nutt described child abuse by aid workers as a despicable practice. In the past year, Save the Children fired three workers for having had sex with 17-year-old girls, and in the past year several U.N. peacekeepers have been implicated in child abuse cases.
The report says some important commitments have been made by the United Nations, the international community and humanitarian and aid agencies to act on this problem. But Nutt says these statements of principle and good intent need decisive action.
"The United Nations and other agencies all have taken some kind of action, but unfortunately a lot of it has been guidelines plans meetings talks, and while there has been action there is nothing that I can turn around to you and say this problem is going to be solved in a few weeks time," he said.
Save the Children interviewed children from Ivory Coast, southern Sudan and Haiti. It concluded better reporting mechanisms needed to be introduced to deal with what it called "endemic failures" in responding to reported cases of abuse.
Save the Children says it hopes its report will start a serious debate on the issue resulting in aid agencies adopting universal guidelines, sharing information on fired child abusers and establishing a global U.N. watchdog to enforce the agreement. It also says aid agencies should encourage children to come forward with reports of abuses.