Aid recipients continue to be abused by aid workers, report says

Report based on survey into exploitation of beneficiaries by emergency workers

Photo taken in Bangkok, Thailand

Aid recipients are still being abused and sexually exploited by workers who are supposed to be helping them, the International Development Committee has found.

An IDC report, Progress on Tackling the Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Aid Beneficiaries, found 73 per cent of respondents believe there is still a problem with abuse by aid workers.

The IDC suggests this is likely to have become significantly worse with the coronavirus pandemic, as less aid and food makes female beneficiaries more vulnerable to exploitation.

And perpetrators are continuing to move from organisation to organisation with impunity, the committee found.

It says some improvements have been made in the sector, such as hiring people to prevent abuse, improved training for aid workers, and new whistle-blower protection.

But aid beneficiaries, mainly girls and women, are still being preyed on.

Twenty-six per cent of respondents to the IDC’s survey said they had witnessed suspected sexual exploitation or abuse.

The IDC also addresses the recent exposure that aid workers from the WHO and other major aid groups exploited women during the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2018 and 2020.

The IDC suggests that the aid sector could prevent sex abuse if more effort were made to show zero tolerance to abuse, empower female aid recipients and support survivors.

It recognises that the UK government has invested a significant amount in schemes to stop abusers being rehired.

The IDC report found that when victims or whistle-blowers try to report abuse, little meaningful action follows allowing perpetrators to continue working in the sector with impunity.

The survey found that 57 per cent of respondents felt the effectiveness of the whistleblowing policies and practices at their organisations were inadequate.

The IDC suggests that enhanced use of in-country justice systems would help to act as a deterrent and a way to prosecution.

It also puts forward the idea that the UK Government should work in partnership with governments around the world to ensure they are equipped to handle abuse cases brought against local aid workers.

Reporting is still a huge problem, the IDC says. Women and girls would be understandably distrustful of a sector that abused and exploited them.

Aid organisations must attach much more importance to engaging women, making sure they know their rights and designing possible solutions with their input.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Isabel Infantes/Shutterstock (8823936b)
Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Sarah Champion during the Labour Party general election manifesto launch
Labour Party general election campaigning, Bradford, UK

“Aid beneficiaries, by their very nature, are the most vulnerable people on the planet," said Sarah Champion, IDC chairwoman and a UK Member of Parliament.

"I have huge admiration for the aid sector, but it needs to wake up to what is going on and embed safeguarding within all of its programmes.

“Our inquiry has found that abuse of beneficiaries is rife, and that the sector has effectively become the last safe haven for perpetrators.

"I know that the vast majority of aid workers are dedicated people proud to serve beneficiaries, but until the perpetrators of exploitation and abuse are driven out of the sector, there remains a dark shadow across their good work.”

The committee has secured a debate in the House of Commons on the report, which is expected to take place on the morning of January 14.

The IDC is concerned that the culture of the aid sector could be a contributing factor to the amount of abuse occurring.

It has decided to launch an inquiry to consider the philosophy of aid and plans to announce full details soon.