The UK government has failed to listen to victims in its efforts to tackle abuses in the aid sector after the ‘sex for aid’ scandals, a UK watchdog has said.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (Icai) has said the government is falling short due to a “top-down” approach and needs to listen and learn from aid recipients who remained reluctant to report allegations of abuse.
“The UK has played an important role in galvanizing international action to protect people from sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian crises,” said Icai Commissioner Sir Hugh Bayley. “But its top-down approach forces those delivering UK aid to spend more time reporting to the FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office]than listening to the people they seek to protect and responding to their needs.
The UK’s Stop Sexual Exploitation in the Aid Sector initiative was launched in 2018 after revelations that Oxfam workers had sexually exploited victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The government organized an international summit on safeguarding to tackle the problem.
But the report found that cases of abuse were still underreported. Icai said a survey in Uganda found people were reluctant to report cases to agencies due to lengthy investigation processes and concerns about corruption and not being believed.
Complaints mechanisms were often overwhelmed as they dealt with a wide range of protection issues beyond sexual exploitation, Icai added.
He said there were weaknesses at the international level in sharing information on exploitation. However, the report indicates that progress has been made in working with donors to promote a coordinated response within the humanitarian sector.
Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond, a network of charities and NGOs in the UK, said the FCDO had “taken important steps” but progress was being held back by a lack of data “about incidents sexual exploitation and abuse and what works where, and how to treat and prevent it”.
“Ultimately, the voices of victims and survivors must be sought and heard and this work must be adequately funded so that organizations do not need to cut corners on protection.”
An FCDO spokesman said the UK was a “world leader” in tackling sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in the aid sector. “We continue to prioritize this work, protecting the most vulnerable and ensuring that money does not go to organizations that fail to meet high safeguard standards,” they said.