Despite the UN’s full commitment to a policy of zero-tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), cases continue to be reported in peacekeeping missions. The vast majority of peacekeeping personnel perform their jobs with courage, dedication and professionalism. Yet those who do commit SEA offences betray the trust of those whom they have been sent to protect and bring shame on the entire UN system.
When allegations of serious misconduct are made, the UN can repatriate the individuals concerned, make recommendations to the Troop Contributing Country (TCC), and ban the individual from future peacekeeping operations. It will usually, however, be the responsibility of the TCC to pursue disciplinary and criminal charges. TCCs are also primarily responsible for the recruitment, selection and pre-deployment training of national military contingents deployed on peacekeeping missions. The active support of the TCCs is, therefore, fundamental to tackling SEA. UN statistics indicate, the number of complaints of SEA has declined significantly over the last decade.
This is encouraging, but may not paint a comprehensive picture given the likelihood that these are being under-reported and the limited manner in which the UN can track incidents. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child all children have the right to be protected from exploitation and abuse and therefore all organisations involved in peacekeeping missions have the responsibility to keep children safe.
Tackling SEA of children requires a holistic approach involving TCCs, the UN Secretariat, humanitarian agencies, and civil society organisations (whose personnel can also be guilty of such acts) in both the TCCs and mission host states.
Keeping Children Safe advocates for all organisations to to protect the children they come into contact with by adopting International Child Safeguarding Standards. Its team of expert social workers, police officers and international safeguarding practitioners provides technical advice and capacity-building on all aspects of child safeguarding including: safe recruitment, reporting and accountability as well as training on how to carry out specialist investigations into allegations of child abuse in ways that do not re-traumatise the victims or contaminate the evidence.
Keeping Children Safe’s Safeguarding children from sexual exploitation and abuse report (PDF) provides an overview of the nature and scale of the problem and the UN’s response. It also indicates how we could support those who are working with the UN and TCCs to implement measures to prevent abuse and ensure that organisations respond appropriately to complaints, victims and witnesses have access to justice mechanisms, and provide support and redress to individual victims.
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