Shocking revelations on BBC’s Newsnight on Friday 9 February saw former Oxfam head Dame Barbara Stocking admit that she “knew for years” after an internal Oxfam investigation that sexual exploitative behaviour has been going on at Oxfam. The behaviour included hiring prostitutes in earthquake-torn Haiti – who may have been underage – and downloading illegal material. It was revealed that the aid workers involved in such acts moved from aid job to aid job with spotless references.
Worse, Oxfam only reported accusations to its board, but not to prosecutors.
However, such behaviour is the tip of the iceberg.
There is a growing realisation that the worst of crimes – child abuse and child rape – make up a component of detailed and long-standing sex abuse accusations against UN and NGO aid workers, and peacekeeping soldiers. If you doubt this, have a look for yourself – I wrote about the lack of action but six months ago.
Oxfam is far from alone with sexual harassment, rape and child rape accusations. The problem is becoming more well known in the entire aid industry. The UK’s former National Criminal Intelligence Service, which registered and monitored the activities of paedophiles, warned as far back as 1999 that the scale of the problem of paedophiles in the aid world is on a level with sex tourism.
As disgusting as it might seem, as authorities crack down on paedophilia in the developed world, predatory paedophiles are now going to the developing world to gain access to children. According to authorities’ warnings, one of the paedophiles’ chosen methodologies to gain access to children is to join a children’s charity.
Shocking, but once you think about it, horribly easy to believe.
Surely then, child-related charities working overseas must have a higher than normal obligation to prevent, detect and prosecute predatory paedophiles who join their networks?
Yet, from the top, we have no leadership.
Kofi Anan and Ban Ki Moon, two former UN secretaries general, both list their failure to crack down on paedophilia as one of their professional regrets. The UN’s Field Support website lists ongoing accusations of sex abuse and ongoing accusations of child rape. The problem is not just a past problem – it is a present and future scourge that will threaten the entire aid industry if we don’t fix it.
This topic is difficult reading for many people. I understand people would rather shy away from the issue of child rape. Just in typing the words for this article I feel uncomfortable. One of the reasons that the Catholic Church avoided responsibility for so long is that it was too difficult for people, especially Catholics, to accept that their institution was responsible for covering up heinous acts.
It is similar in aid.
I am a former aid worker and thus am part of a group on Facebook, “Fifty Shades of Aid”. This group is made up of former and current aid workers with almost 17,000 members. There has been a lot of discussion on the Oxfam revelations and the broader topic of sex abuse by aid workers.
There have been many good comments about the need to clean and fix the industry. But there have been other comments, including: “The allegations of child abuse here are speculated by the media and adding to the witch hunt mentality” and: “Please also remember that The Times is on a huge anti-aid tirade”.
Do some people hate aid? Yes. Do some right-wing libertarians want to rip down the whole aid system? Yes. But do you defend the aid system by hiding its biggest shame, child abuse? No.
I understand the “shoot the messenger” mentality. Many Catholics still feel that the Church has been unfairly targeted. Many aid workers will feel the same. But like many Catholics, many aid workers will, now and in the future, have to ask themselves: “What did I do to try and stop it?”
You can only defend the aid system by weeding out the problem. And the law does have a solution.
Sex tourism laws in Australia, UK, USA and elsewhere make it unlawful to have sex with a child anywhere in the world. But it is also a crime to aid, abet and counsel child sex crimes.
When are we finally going to realise that turning a wilful blind eye encourages these paedophiles? When will people like Dame Barbara Stocking, if they knew for years and did not report these people to police, realise that they are or should be guilty of a crime?
Former International Development Secretary Priti Patel understood this problem. Patel led an international effort at the last UN General Assembly to finally take this seriously. She proposed a new protocol of all accusations against UK nationals to be jointly investigated by the UN and UK prosecuting authorities. Where has this got to now Patel has gone?
Where is the new whistleblowing round-table to be hosted in the first half of 2018 in the UK, that Patel promised to the world last September? I am waiting to see what Patel’s successor at the Department for International Development (DFID), Penny Mordaunt, will do.
Organisations like Hear Their Cries are doing massively good work to raise awareness of the issue. However, celebrity aid ambassadors, such as Emma Watson and Angelina Jolie and others, should cease their ambassadorial roles until they have faith that the problem is fixed. This would bring it to the forefront.
The British people are rightly disgusted about the acts of child sex tourists – predatory paedophiles – and should be disgusted by the paedophiles that make their way in to the aid Industry, particularly because the British public are paying for aid workers to undertake their crimes.
While a sex tourist pays his or her own way to their favourite child hotspot, an aid worker is paid, insured, housed and flown by DFID, together with well-meaning and good people, donating their money in the hope that it will make someone else’s life better.
But we now need to take the bitter pill and have the hard discussions. Agencies we put faith in have a big problem, and the problem needs to be fixed.
Andrew MacLeod is a visiting professor to King’s College London, chairman of Griffin Law, and a former high-level UN official
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