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Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector inquiry launched

5 March 2018

The International Development Committee is launching an inquiry on sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector.


The International Development Committee (IDC) is inquiring into sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector.  The Committee held an initial evidence session on Tuesday 20 February; Oxfam UK, Save the Children GB and Department for International Development (DFID) officials gave evidence. Persons and organisations are invited to submit written evidence addressing one or more of the specific issues listed below (a submission does not have to address all the matters identified and may draw other matters to the Committee's attention if considered to be relevant).

Scope of the inquiry

The IDC is primarily responsible for holding DFID to account over the effectiveness of its spending, administration and policies. This inquiry is focused upon the Department's performance in ensuring that UK humanitarian relief, and official development assistance, is delivered with maximum impact according to its aims and objectives and – at the very least – without ignoring, tolerating, or contributing to, circumstances in which the exploitation or abuse of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people can take place.

The Committee's key concern is allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of the intended recipients and beneficiaries of humanitarian and development aid by aid sector workers, peacekeepers, or others supported by UK aid (both bilateral and multilateral) in recipient countries; and proposals for new approaches to safeguarding within the aid sector to tackle these problems.

Evidence relating to allegations of related misconduct within aid sector organisations may also be considered for the light shed on those organisations' values, priorities, incentives and governance processes, including their relationships with DFID.

Submissions received which contain specific allegations may be referred to the appropriate authorities.

Scale of the problem

Work by the UNHCR and Save the Children in 2002 and Save the Children in 2008, as well as the Oxfam scandal in Haiti in 2010/11, highlight clear evidence of sexual exploitation and abuse of aid recipients and beneficiaries in the context of humanitarian relief operations.

  • What further evidence, if any, exists of the scale, incidence and seriousness of this kind of exploitation and abuse in either humanitarian or other development aid contexts?
  • What efforts have been made by the UN, other multilateral aid organisations, donor governments and development aid NGOs and charities to inquire into, and report on, this issue, in terms of:
    o sector-wide study?
    o reviews of the actions and behaviours of staff and personnel?

Historical response

  • How effective have the UN and other international institutions been at dealing with sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector?
  • What obstacles are there to the effective tackling of this problem?    
    Current response - multilateral
  • What the key changes are needed to establish effective safeguarding, vetting and whistleblowing policies processes across official, NGO and charitable organisations in the international aid sector?
  • Are there effective pre-appointment vetting and disclosure requirements and measures in place, in particular in relation to senior appointments across the aid sector, to establish and maintain appropriate leadership on these issues, ‘from the top'?
  • Are there any analogous sectors where best practice may be found from which to derive a more effective approach to the recruitment, vetting, monitoring and regulation of aid workers, whether at an international, national (donor country) or local (recipient country) level?
  • What contribution could better coordination between relief agencies and recipient governments make to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse in the delivery of humanitarian, and development, aid?
  • Do the current delivery and/or employment contracts used by multilateral funding bodies such as the various UN agencies, the World Bank, EU or the African Union include adequate provisions about disclosure, safeguarding, vetting and whistleblowing?

2011 Haiti cases

The Committee invites comments in response to the evidence recently provided by Oxfam UK on its management of cases arising from the actions and behaviour of certain staff in Haiti in 2010/11; the lessons learned and the steps taken thereafter.

  • Did the Department, and or the Charity Commission, respond effectively and appropriately to the level of information that was provided by Oxfam UK, or from any other source, about the Haiti cases of 2011?

Current response - UK

  • Do the steps recently announced by the Secretary of State for International Development in response to the safeguarding crisis provide confidence in the Department's political will to seek and achieve effective change (in the UK and/or at an international level) within the aid sector?
    o Are the resources and powers of DFID's new ‘Safeguarding Unit' adequate for the task it has?
  • Is the Charity Commission adequately empowered and resourced to deal with the investigation and reporting of instances of sexual exploitation and abuse amongst large UK charities operating in many countries? Is the Commission's approach to safeguarding fit for purpose in this regard?
  • Given the channelling of Official Development Assistance by government departments other than DFID, what evidence is there of effective cross-government action in response to this safeguarding challenge? What should be done to ensure a consistent and effective strategy?
  • What are the key changes required to establish effective safeguarding, vetting and whistleblowing policies processes across all official, NGO and charitable organisations within the UK aid sector?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of measures that have been proposed for improving standards of professional conduct within the aid sector in response to current concerns (for instance by the Save the Children, in particular the “humanitarian passport” for aid workers and/or an independent professional body responsible for registration, certification, professional standards, in-service professional development and the investigation of conduct cases).
  • Are there any wider measures that might be appropriate and effective in tackling the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse overseas; for instance via changes to the so-called “sex tourism” provisions of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008?
  • In February, the Committee heard evidence of gaps in the UK legal framework in relation to attempts to respond effectively to these problems. The Committee has drawn up a draft Bill – provisionally entitled the International Development (Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups) Bill – to provoke debate and invites witnesses to comment and feedback on its provisions. The draft Bill, and explanatory notes, can be seen here.

Reputational impact

  • What has the impact of the recent revelations been on the capacity of UK development aid charities, and UK aid more widely, to continue to help people in need around the world? What further steps should be taken by the sector collaboratively, including DFID, to mitigate such impacts?

Written evidence

The deadline for written submissions is Friday 6 April 2018. The Committee values diversity and seeks to ensure this where possible. We encourage members of under-represented groups to submit written evidence.

The Committee considers requests for reasonable adjustments to its usual arrangements for taking evidence and publishing material, to enhance access. Please contact or telephone 0207 219 1223.

Written evidence submitted should:

Have a one page summary at the front
Be no longer than 3000 words in length
Have numbered paragraphs
Avoid the use of colour or expensive-to-print material

Further information

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