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Sex abuse allegations against aid workers in South Sudan UN camp | Sexual Assault News

Malakal, South Sudan – Reports of sexual abuse committed by aid workers at a UN camp in South Sudan first surfaced in 2015, two years after the country’s civil war broke out. Seven years later, such reports have not only continued, but have recently increased, according to a survey by The New Humanitarian and Al Jazeera.

The revelations come at a tense time, with the UN estimating that as many as 5,000 displaced people will soon move to the camp in Malakal and current residents worry that this influx will increase the incidence of sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA). They say these incidents have gone largely unchecked despite a UN-led task force charged with addressing the problem.

Residents are also concerned that the recent violence these people are fleeing from will seep into the Protection of Civilians (PoC) site – recent clashes between Shilluk and Nuer tribes in the camp have already flared up.

Aid workers who have worked at the PoC site told reporters that reports of abuse began to trickle in shortly after the camp opened in late 2013, but research by The New Humanitarian and Al Jazeera found that the extent of the abuse has increased since then. increased, officials said. camp inmates and victims. Reporters also analyzed several UN and NGO documents.

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One woman said she became pregnant in 2019 by a local World Food Program (WFP) employee — although the relationship was by mutual consent, most aid agencies, including the WFP, are banning sexual relations with aid beneficiaries due to stark power imbalances among aid workers and beneficiaries. . She told reporters in December 2021 that she is so concerned about the ongoing sexual abuse that she is putting her eldest daughter, now 15, on birth control.

A teenager said she was 15 when a local World Vision employee raped and impregnated her. She feared for her future and said she tried to hang herself before deciding to leave the camp in an effort to build a better life.

World Vision said it was opening an immediate investigation into the woman’s case, while WFP said it could not comment on specific cases.

The women’s accusations match those of other camp inmates — testimonies detailed in a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report sent to humanitarian organizations on October 5, 2020 and shared with The New Humanitarian and Al Jazeera by a relief worker who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

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In the report, residents said sexual exploitation was experienced “on a daily basis”, mainly perpetrated by humanitarian workers; UN and NGO workers rented houses in the camp to have sex with women, and UN peacekeepers paid bribes to gain access to women. Camp residents also said three girls had been raped and impregnated by a teacher in 2018. Some schools in the camp are supported by UN agencies and NGOs.

After the publication of the report, there were at least 18 months more about abuse.

“It was with deep concern that I received information about the increased incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) at the Malakal Protection of Civilians (POC) site,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, deputy head of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. on March 21, 2022. , sent a letter to some 17 aid organizations working in the camp, as well as several camp coordination groups. A copy of the letter, which was not made public, was obtained by The New Humanitarian and Al Jazeera.

INTERACTIVE - Malakal camp at a glance map August
(Al-Jazeera)

Nyanti, who assumed her role in January 2022, said the reported increase was noticed during a meeting with humanitarian partners at the Malakal PoC, which is now home to about 37,000 people.

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She told reporters in an email on Aug. 12 that tackling such abuses is one of her “top priorities,” but she didn’t comment on why previous strategies may have fallen short.

The reference to an increase, even when aid officials refused to provide information on specific cases or were unable to provide a more complete picture, offers a rare glimpse of a grossly underreported problem, and one that crops up frequently in the UN and the aid sector.

Aid organizations acknowledged that there are still obstacles in tackling such abuse. Their representatives told reporters that they are working to raise awareness about what exploitation is and how to report it. Measures include engaging with the community, broadcasting messages over the radio and sharing hotline numbers to raise awareness.

While some women said that sex was consensual, they also told reporters that they had no other means of supporting themselves or their families without the money or gifts the men provided. They said they were afraid that if they stopped having sex with the social workers, the support would stop.

“Sexual exploitation and abuse is a consequence of the wider abuse of power and gender inequality, which is entrenched in existing social and institutional structures and practices,” Peterson Magoola, a spokesperson for UN Women, told reporters in an email. UN Women has co-chaired the national task force since 2018.

According to the UN, sexual exploitation is defined (PDF) as any actual or attempted abuse of a person’s position of power, using vulnerability or trust, for sexual purposes. It bans it because it’s based on unequal relationships, noting that any transaction for sex — such as giving gifts or offering support — reflects this unequal balance of power.

“Consent is irrelevant; even if someone accepts a gift or support… the transaction is still considered exploitative,” reads one guide.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a statement from his spokesman to The New Humanitarian and Al Jazeera, called for “an urgent report on the immediate actions being taken by the UN country team to combat sexual exploitation and abuse” after the investigation was published. in our operations in South Sudan and ensure accountability”.

The statement added that the UN chief was “appalled by these allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse that are causing irreparable harm to victims and their families”.

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