Sexual exploitation and abuse is a problem across the international humanitarian aid sector, British lawmakers were told on Tuesday.
Kevin Watkins, Chief Executive of the charity Save the Children, said the scandal surrounding Oxfam’s operations in Haiti, where senior staff were found to have used prostitutes, was not a one-off.
“We have to recognize that this is not the occasional bad apple but a structural sector wide problem,” Watkins told the House of Commons International Development Committee. “This is a real problem, it is systemic, it’s a large-scale problem and we have to fix it,” he said.
The committee met in a special session to discuss the Oxfam scandal. The charity’s embattled Chief Executive, Mark Goldring, apologized to lawmakers for its conduct in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
He said about 7,000 people have stopped making regular donations to Oxfam since the Times newspaper first reported the story. Goldring also said his organization has received around 26 fresh allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation since the scandal broke.
“It was common knowledge that this was going on across the sector and no one knew how to deal with it,” said UK MP Pauline Latham.
“I’m sure this is happening in Rohingya aid camps, I am sure it is happening round the world,” she said.
Latham urged the establishment of an international register for aid workers.
An internal Oxfam investigation from 2011, published this week, confirmed seven of the charity’s staff members were accused of using prostitutes at a residence in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Four were fired for gross misconduct and three others, including then country director Roland Van Hauwermeiren were allowed to resign. Van Hauwermeiren went on to secure a job in Bangladesh with the charity Action Against Hunger.
Haiti, which has criticized the UK charity for not notifying it of the findings, is now conducting its own investigation.
Winnie Byanyima, the Exective Director of Oxfam International, said that in countries like Haiti where prostitution was illegal, the women often end up being published if authorities are notified.
The UN has also been hit with allegations of abuse. In 2016, the UN said it had received 145 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse – 80 of which were associated with uniformed peacekeepers, and 65 with civilian personnel.
A 2017 United Nations report on the issue said sexual exploitation has been a problem for the organization for years compounded by weakly enforced hiring standards and no system for screening candidates for prior history of related misconduct.