8 May 2006
The NGO Save The Children has alleged that some UN soldiers, aid workers and Liberian government workers have sexually exploited vulnerable children especially those displaced by war. Save the Children carried out a study which involved speaking to more than 300 people living in refugee camps and concluded that there was widespread abuse. More than 50% of the girls in the locations of the respondents between the ages of 8 to 18 years were being sold for sex. This is not the first time international workers have come under attack for using their vantage positions to sexually exploit the same people they came to assist. A few years ago, similar allegations were made against some UN staff that were caring for refugees in West Africa.
Some Liberian government workers and teachers were also accused of participating in the abuse. The report found out that teachers demanded sex in exchange for such favours as better grades or in lieu of school fees and other workers traded sex for rendering public service.
“More must be done to support children and their families to make a living without turning to this type of desperation.” Said Jasmine Whitbread of Save The Children U.K.
The UN’s Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Liberia, Jordan Ryan promised to investigate specific allegations. “Unfortunately not all international NGOs have taken it seriously…we have never done enough until there’s a zero case load.” Jordan said.
Similar sexual scandals involving UN peacekeeping forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo drew international outcry and condemnation. In Congo’s case the victims were usually given small amounts of money or food in exchange for sex. Worse still were reports of rape and gang rape of girls by UN soldiers. Then, an outraged UN Secretary General condemned the “shameful” acts of gross misconduct and vowed to make “make sure that those involved are held fully accountable”. In his report to the Security Council on the issue, Koffi Annan said that “we cannot tolerate even one instance of a United Nations peacekeeper victimizing the most vulnerable ones”. UN peacekeepers in the DRC were eventually banned from having sex with locals.
If confirmed, this will be very depressing news for Liberia that is just emerging from years of confict and chaos.
Njei Moses Timah