February 28, 2018 / 8:32 PM / a year ago

Sex abuse scandal widens to Britain's foreign aid agency

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain’s foreign aid agency was thrown into a sexual abuse scandal on Wednesday that it is trying to address in the aid sector after admitting “under five” of its staff members were reported for sexual harassment last year.

Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) has demanded that charities come clean about sexual misconduct by staff and any action taken after reports that Oxfam aid workers paid for sex in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

DFID has sharply criticized the aid sector and threatened to cut funding to charities tangled in the sex scandal.

But misconduct by staff in the agency itself hit the spotlight on Wednesday when Minister of State for Africa Harriett Baldwin told parliament that “under five” DFID staff members were formally reported for sexual harassment in 2017.

Earlier this month, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt asked British charities to submit assurances to DFID that they protect the vulnerable and refer concerns to authorities, giving aid groups until Tuesday this week to reply.

She said charities had failed in their fundamental duty to prioritize the people they were supposed to help and were complicit in the abuse by protecting those responsible or not tackling the problem.

A DFID spokeswoman said it could not yet comment on the findings of this internal review of staff and delivery partners but she said about 161 out of 179 organizations had responded.

The spokeswoman said the agency has reached out to most of those who have failed to comply and, without a “compelling justification ... DFID will carefully consider whether it is right to continue their funding”.

Reporting by Ana Ionova, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/

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