‘I don’t know how many children I raped while working for the UN’ reads the headline on an article carried recently in The Times.
The article quotes French former aid worker Didier Bourguet, who has admitted to raping multiple children while working for the UN.
But this is not a one-off ‘bad apple’. Following the Oxfam abuse scandal earlier this year, the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee conducted an investigation and recently handed down its report, saying the problem was ‘endemic’ throughout the aid sector.
Who would have thought that child rape and sexual abuse would be endemic in the foreign aid sector? Aid workers are sent to do good, so surely they wouldn’t rape children?
And if there were one ‘bad apple’, surely the safeguarding systems of the industry would put children first and jail the perpetrators?
According to the UK parliament report, this is not the case. Aid agencies have systematically put their reputations before the needs of the children. Everyone should read the report.
I worked for the United Nations and the Red Cross before it. Am I surprised by the revelations?
No. I quit the UN in 2009 citing, in part, the “institutional failure to crack down on pedophilia” as one of my reasons. I wrote about it in my book A Life Half Lived and I even lobbied then prime minister Julia Gillard to include the aid sector in the child abuse royal commission.
While many people outside the industry may be surprised at the massive scale of abuse, those inside the industry know of the problem. And in most cases they have ignored the problem and allowed the abuse to continue.
"I don't know how many children I raped while working for the UN" pic.twitter.com/bJFzhfWngl
— Justice Hub (@justice_hub) July 31, 2018
Like the Catholic Church before it, this problem must be fixed.
And like Catholic Church administrators and bishops who failed to report these crimes, there are CEOs of major charities who should go to jail for covering this up – for decades.
To help fix the problem I co-founded Hear Their Cries, a Swiss organisation that fights for the victims of sex abuse in aid.
What does it say about the aid industry that there is a not-for-profit set up to help protect victims from the aid industry.
To ensure our independence we have been totally self-funding with private donors, and take no money from government – because government has been part of the problem.
There should be four next steps.
Firstly, we need to give whatever resources, power and authority to the federal police so the ‘extra territorial laws’ on child sex offences apply to the aid industry.
It is unlawful for an Australian national or resident to have sex with a child anywhere in the world.
Secondly, people should go to jail for failing to report abuse. Any CEO or trustee who does not report, and does not undertake all reasonable action to prevent abuse, should face criminal sanction.
If that sounds harsh, remember this is a problem known in the industry for decades. Drastic action is needed.
Australia leads the way in law globally. Our law is about to be strengthened to make the failure to report child abuse a crime, even when it happens overseas.
But we need to make sure the law is enforced and that the police get all the resources they need to ensure successful prosecutions.
Third, the report acknowledges that even though the known victims show how large the problem is, most victims do not report the crime and remain unknown.
The massive problem we see is only the tip of the iceberg.
No one knows the scale of the under-reported nature of the crime. Last year Hear Their Cries estimated there were 60,000 victims over the past 10 years.
At the time the organisation was accused of exaggerating the problem. Following the parliamentary report we now know that number is probably a massive underestimation.
Fourthly, it is time for ‘celebrity ambassadors’ like Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman to suspend their ambassador roles until we are confident the aid industry lives up to the standards of #MeToo and #TimesUp.
How can you claim to defend actresses, when children are being raped through ‘complacency verging on complicity’, as the report says?
Hear Their Cries has been calling for this since March.
It is time we all stood up. You, me, police, politicians, celebrities and media. We can stop this. We must stop this.
Andrew MacLeod is a former high-level UN official, a visiting professor to King’s College London, Chairman of Griffin Law, and a non-executive director to Australian and US companies.