UN to probe child sex abuse allegations against peacekeepers

The UN will investigate allegations that some peacekeepers and aid workers sexually abused children in conflict-torn countries, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday.

UK human rights charity says some victims as young as 6

The United Nations will investigate allegations by a human rights charity that some peacekeepers and aid workers sexually abused children they were supposed to be helping in conflict-torn countries, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday.

The report released Tuesday by Save the Children UK also found children are often too afraid to report the abuse.

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 all these cases which have been raised, we will very carefully investigate" and will take "necessary measures" where appropriate.

The report is based on confidential interviews conducted last year with 250 boys and girls living in towns and villages in Haiti, Sudan and the Ivory Coast. Adults, aid workers and officials also participated.

According to the report, more than 50 per cent of those interviewed said they knew of at least one incident of coerced sex and sexual touching involving boys and girls in their communities, while about 20 per cent of those who said they knew of incidents could recall more than 10.

Those interviewed talked of boys and girls being offered money and food to perform sexual acts, and paid to make pornographic films. Some spoke of children being raped, or sold as sex slaves, while many noted a high level of verbal sexual abuse.

'The man took her and raped her'

One boy in Haiti told Save the Children about a homeless girl he knows who was grabbed by an aid worker in the middle of the night.

"He gave her one American dollar and the little girl was happy to see the money," the boy was quoted as saying in the report, his name withheld to protect his identity. "It was 2 a.m. The man took her and raped her. In the morning the little girl could not walk."

According to the report, most victims identified were 14- or 15-year-old girls, but some were as young as six.

Workers with 23 separate aid agencies were identified as perpetrators, with armed United Nations peacekeepers accused most often. Save the Children noted that its own workers are not innocent — three have been fired for having sex with 17-year-old girls.

Children afraid to report abuse

Jasmine Whitebread, the CEO of Save the Children UK, said that while most aid workers and peacekeepers are not involved in this kind of activity, the report is concerning.

"This research exposes the despicable actions of a small number of perpetrators who are sexually abusing some of the most vulnerable children in the world, the very children they are meant to protect," she said in a written statement.

"It is hard to imagine a more grotesque abuse of authority or flagrant violation of children's rights."

The Save the Children report notes that many of the victims are afraid to report the abuse. Some fear the abuser will come back and hurt them, or that they might be stigmatized or punished by their families and community.

Others fear if they make a fuss, their community will lose all foreign support.

"People don't report it because they are worried that the agency will stop working here, and we need them," a teenage boy in southern Sudan was quoted as saying in the report.

Save the Children recommends that the UN set up a local complaints system so children can safely report abuse.

Save the Children also says a global watchdog group must be established to monitor the situation. In addition, Save the Children says international funds must be directed to areas like public education and legal reforms so that children are taught to report abuse and court systems can handle their complaints.

With files from the Associated Press