Project to cut teen pregnancy and sexual violence in Rwanda is axed as UK foreign aid cuts begin

First known cut since abolition of Dfid attacked as breach of PM’s pledge to ‘stand up for the right of every girl to have 12 years of quality education’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 11 September 2020 19:57 BST
Boris Johnson says multibillion foreign aid budget should be spent to advance Britain's 'political and commercial interests'

A £12.5m project to cut teen pregnancy and sexual violence in Rwanda has been axed, as the UK begins huge foreign aid cuts – prompting criticism that promises to the world’s poorest children are being broken.

The programme – designed to help 200,000 vulnerable young people complete their schooling – is the first known to have been scrapped since £2.9bn of cuts were announced.

It had almost completed the procurement process and was due to begin early next year, the investigative news service SourceMaterial, which uncovered the decision, said.

The cancellation comes after Downing Street suggested that strict internationally-agreed rules to prevent aid being spent on “military purposes” could be ripped up.

It was condemned by Preet Gill, Labour’s shadow international development secretary, who said: “The prime minister made a clear commitment to stand up for the right of every girl in the world to have 12 years of quality education.

“The cancellation of a programme to help Rwandan girls have access to a safe education shows that this government cannot be trusted to uphold their promises.”

The controversy came after the Department for International Development (Dfid) was abolished and swallowed up in the Foreign Office, triggering suspicions.

No 10 then refused to rule out changing the global definition of aid, after a report that the chancellor wants cash diverted to items such as new cyberweapons and AI-enabled drones.

Furthermore, a couple of weeks earlier, £4.8m of the shrinking aid budget was shifted “to strengthen global supply chains” of supermarket giants including Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Morrisons.

The Independent revealed in July that funding for scores of poverty-fighting overseas projects had been “paused”, undermining preparations for coronavirus striking the world’s poorest countries.

The £2.9bn has been cut because the UK spends 0.7 per cent of national output on foreign aid – which means that £14bn pot shrinks as the economy contracts by up to 15 per cent this year.

However, Boris Johnson has also spoken openly of shifting funds from fighting poverty to foreign policy struggles such as resisting Russia.

That shift has also alarmed some senior Tories, including former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, who warned any aid commitment was “inextricably linked to the rules”.

“We should not, as a country or a government, seek to balance the books on the backs of the poorest women and children in the world,” he told Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary earlier this month.

But the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office defended the cuts, insisting the UK remained “a global leader in international development”.

“Our work in Rwanda has trained extra 25,000 primary school teachers to support girls in the classroom, and also provides pregnant women and young children with nutritional support to cut infant mortality and make childbirth safer,” a spokesperson said. 

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