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Progress on tackling the sexual exploitation and abuse of aid beneficiaries, Seventh Report of Session 2019–21

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Report, together with formal minutes relating to the report

Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 15 December 2020

Summary

Since 2018, the International Development Committee has been inquiring into sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector. We are determined to keep the spotlight on this issue until we can see that effective, concerted efforts are being taken to combat this problem in every corner of the sector. Our predecessor committee identified several factors that have enabled sexual exploitation and abuse to persist, including a lack of safeguarding culture and ineffective investigations into perpetrators when abuses occur.

We recognise that in the last couple of years aid actors including the Department for International Development, non-governmental organisations, private sector suppliers and the United Nations have introduced new practices and procedures to tackle this problem and improve whistleblowing policies and protections. Many aid organisations have introduced new training to raise awareness among staff and some have employed new preventing sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) champions and coordinators.

Whilst this is commendable, we are keen to ensure this does not become a box-ticking exercise that fails to address the underlying culture that has enabled sexual exploitation and abuse to persist.

Our evidence has shown that in some parts of the aid sector discriminatory attitudes may have stifled progress in tackling this problem and the entrenched power imbalances make it almost impossible for aid beneficiaries to challenge aid providers. It is clear aid beneficiaries need to be empowered and involved more directly in aid delivery. We advocate for approaches to tackling sexual exploitation and abuse that engage local populations and prioritise support for victims and survivors.

The recent “sex for jobs” scandal during the 2018–20 Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was described as an “open secret”1 yet little seems to have been done to put a stop to it. We need safe reporting mechanisms, designed with local populations so that individuals are empowered to come forward. Individuals also need to trust that if they do raise a complaint, robust investigations will take place and appropriate action taken against the perpetrator if the complaint is upheld. Without these mechanisms, all the efforts that have been directed towards employment cycle schemes such as the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme and Aid Worker Registration Scheme will be completely ineffective at stopping perpetrators from moving around the aid sector with impunity.
We are proud of the impact that the aid sector has achieved in tackling poverty around the world and we want this work to continue, but the sexual exploitation, abuse and underlying culture outlined in this report will continue to undermine its efforts unless organisations do everything they can to stamp it out. The Department for International Development had made positive steps towards holding its implementing partners accountable for their safeguarding practices and the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) must continue to push for change as it takes over stewardship of the aid budget.