UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN would investigate allegations by a leading children's charity that UN peacekeepers are involved in widespread sexual abuse of children.
The report released on Tuesday by Save the Children UK, based on field research in southern Sudan, Ivory Coast and Haiti, describes a litany of sexual crimes committed by peacekeepers and international relief workers against children as young as six.
It said some children were denied food aid unless they granted sexual favors; others were forced to have sex or to take part in child pornography; many more were subjected to improper touching or kissing.
“The report shows sexual abuse has been widely under-reported because children are afraid to come forward,” said Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children UK.
“A tiny proportion of peacekeepers and aid workers are abusing the children they were sent to protect. It ranges from sex for food to coerced sex. It’s despicable,” she said.
'VERY SERIOUS ISSUE'
Calling the sexual exploitation of minors a “very serious issue,” Ban reiterated to reporters that he has a “zero tolerance” policy for such acts by UN personnel.
“I think that the report is very valuable and does give us some good points to which the United Nations should continue to address this issue,” Ban said on Tuesday. “On all these cases which have been raised, we will very carefully investigate” and will take “necessary measures” where appropriate.
Earlier, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas had welcomed the report.
“It’s fair, and I think it’s essentially accurate,” she said.
Abuses have been reported in UN peacekeeping missions ranging from Bosnia and Kosovo to East Timor, Cambodia, West Africa and Congo.
The issue was thrust into the spotlight after the UN found in early 2005 that peacekeepers in Congo had sex with Congolese women and girls, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money.
Several month later, Jordan’s then-UN ambassador, Prince Zeid al Hussein, wrote a report that described the UN military arm as deeply flawed and recommended withholding salaries of the guilty and requiring nations to pursue legal action against perpetrators.
In response, the UN adopted a “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual exploitation and abuse and a universal code of conduct that requires training for all peacekeepers, but punishment for wrongdoers is left to individual countries.
Montas said the report stated the UN had already undertaken steps designed to tackle the problem, from establishing conduct and discipline units in all UN missions to strengthening training for all categories of UN personnel. She said the UN also needs to strengthen its investigative capacity.
The study was based on research, confidential interviews and focus groups conducted last year. The charity emphasized it did not produce comprehensive statistics about the scale of abuse, but did gather enough information to indicate the problem is severe.
The report said that more than half the children interviewed knew of cases of sexual abuse and that in many instances children knew of 10 or more such incidents carried out by aid workers or peacekeepers.
The Save the Children UK researchers met with 129 girls and 121 boys between the ages of 10 and 17, and also with a number of adults.