5.29.2008

Who to Trust

Sometimes it is hard to know who to trust, who can be relied upon. Unfortunately those who seek to take advantage of those who are most vulnerable tend to use any means to do so. It is becoming more and more difficult for women and children around the world to trust those offering them aid in confidence. It is essential to be sure that humanitarian and peacekeeping institutions properly screen those interested in working/serving with them. And, as always, there is the difficulty of overcoming the silence of those who are abused. How do you encourage those who are extremely fearful to report the crimes committed against them?
The following news report was put out by CNN on Tuesday, May 27th, 2008, and deals with some of these issues:
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Humanitarian aid workers and United Nation peacekeepers are sexually abusing small children in several war-ravaged and food-poor countries, a leading European charity has said.

Children as young as 6 have been forced to have sex with aid workers and peacekeepers in return for food and money, Save the Children UK said in a report released Tuesday.

After interviewing hundreds of children, the charity said it found instances of rape, child prostitution, pornography, indecent sexual assault and trafficking of children for sex.

"It is hard to imagine a more grotesque abuse of authority or flagrant violation of children's rights," said Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children UK.

In the report, "No One To Turn To" a 15-year-old girl from Haiti told researchers: "My friends and I were walking by the National Palace one evening when we encountered a couple of humanitarian men. The men called us over and showed us their penises. They offered us 100 Haitian gourdes ($2.80) and some chocolate if we would suck them. I said, 'No,' but some of the girls did it and got the money."

Save the Children says that almost as shocking as the abuse itself is the "chronic under-reporting" of the abuses. It believes that thousands more children around the world could be suffering in silence.

According to the charity, children told researchers they were too frightened to report the abuse, fearful that the abuser would come back to hurt them and that they would stop receiving aid from agencies, or even be punished by their family or community.

"People don't report it because they are worried that the agency will stop working here, and we need them," a teenage boy in southern Sudan told Save the Children.

The charity's research was centered on Ivory Coast, southern Sudan and Haiti, but Save the Children said the perpetrators of sexual abuse of children could be found in every type of humanitarian organization at all levels.

Save the Children is calling for a global watchdog to tackle the problem and said it was working with the U.N. to establish local mechanisms that will allow victims to easily report abuse.

In 2003, U.N. Nepalese troops were accused of sexual abuse while serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Six soldiers were jailed.

A year later, two U.N. peacekeepers were repatriated after being accused of abuse in Burundi, and U.N. troops were accused of rape and sexual abuse in Sudan.

Last year, the U.N. launched an investigation into sexual abuse claims in Ivory Coast.

The vast majority of aid workers were not involved in any form of abuse or exploitation but in "life-saving essential humanitarian work," Save the Children's Whitbread said.

But humanitarian and peacekeeping agencies working in emergency situations "must own up to the fact that they are vulnerable to this problem and tackle it head on," she said.

The aid agency said it had fired three workers for breaching its codes and called on others to do the same. The three men were dismissed in the past year for having had sex with girls aged 17, which the charity said is not illegal but is cause for loss of employment.

"Oxfam takes a zero-tolerance approach to sexual misconduct by its aid workers. All our staff across the world are held accountable by a robust code of conduct," said Jane Cocking, Oxfam charity's humanitarian director.

"We support Save the Children's calls for a global watchdog. We will do all we can to stamp out this intolerable abuse."

3 comments:

Douglas said...

Angry. And feeling helpless.

Is there anything we can do?

Help.

Eric J said...

See....that's what discourages me from giving to international groups and funds. Is there a place that lists "approved" or local funds that are known to be legit?

wanderingellimac said...

This is a tricky one. Anger is a very accurate, normal and healthy response. Perhaps we can talk more about this in some posts to come but this is something organizations need to get better at - screening people.
But to me it is also somewhat of a gray area. Who should you exclude from helping? How much of a past should you allow, where should you draw the line? I was in a great conversation a while back with an ex-sex offender who has pretty much been excluded from any volunteer or mission work at his church. Is that really what we want to do? I understand wanting to err on the side of safety but to what extent?
And some organizations just get fed up with how long it takes - they are so desperate for more help they will bring on anyone who is willing and that is when you run into these types of problems. Not fully knowing or screening those who are working with you. And things will just get worse as our earth continues to groan and issues like the cyclone, tsunamis and earthquakes bring about disasters that are too big to handle.
I don't think there is any sort of list like you are asking for, Eric. And one like that would be nearly impossible to stay on top of and maintain accuracy.