DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain has banned sexual relations between government staff giving aid and people receiving it, as lawmakers seek to stamp out abuse in the aid sector following a string of sex scandals.
Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has also banned staff exchanging money or jobs for sex, sexual relationships based on “inherently unequal power dynamics”, and those between its staff and aid project partners.
“(These) specific actions are considered unacceptable and will be treated as potential gross misconduct,” Nigel Adams, FCDO Minister of State, said in a letter released to the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.
“We will not hesitate to take swift action if any staff member or any organisation we work with fails to uphold our strict standards.”
The Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian gave evidence to UK lawmakers this month after a joint investigation found that more than 50 women accused aid workers of demanding sex for jobs during the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak.
Women said that their abusers were mainly foreign and said they worked for the World Health Organization, the U.N. migration agency (IOM), the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF), Oxfam, World Vision, Medecins Sans Frontieres and ALIMA.
From Bosnia to Haiti, sex abuse and exploitation scandals have shaken the aid sector for decades - denting the trust of local populations, donors, and taxpayers. The U.N. and NGOs have vowed to crack down on abuses but claims continue to emerge.
The FCDO letter was written in response to concerns raised by parliament’s International Development Committee this month that a new government strategy only “strongly discouraged”, rather than prohibited, staff from sex with aid beneficiaries.
Parliament opened an inquiry into sexual abuse in the aid sector in 2018 after reports emerged that former staff of Oxfam, one of Britain’s biggest charities, paid for sex in Haiti while on a mission to help those affected by a 2010 earthquake.
“It’s become apparent in our inquiry on sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector that too many beneficiaries are being taken advantage of by those in trusted positions,” said Sarah Champion, International Development Committee chairwoman.
“I welcome the Minister’s recent reassurance that sexual relations between FCDO staff and aid beneficiaries will be treated as potential misconduct,” Champion told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The International Development Committee is now seeking to clarify whether the policy extends to other government departments, she said.