Oxfam abuse scandal.
IN the aftermath of humanitarian catastrophes, it becomes the task of courageous aid workers to save lives in underdeveloped regions of the world. It is absolutely outrageous, then, that charity staff in certain countries are known to procure and pay underage girls and women for sex, or indulge in debauched sex parties. This month, an investigation by The Times revealed that senior staff from the British charity Oxfam had paid for sex in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. As Oxfam was rocked by a week of shocking allegations the worst in its otherwise uncontroversial history it acknowledged that an internal investigation into the Haiti incident in 2011 had confirmed sexual misconduct which the charity failed to properly address. Not only have these lurid revelations, many involving sex with underage children, eroded public trust in the UK's charity sector, these allegations could trigger a fall in donations to British charities, including the fundraising biennial appeal by Comic Relief in March. Funds through this appeal are funnelled into global social development projects in health and education in Asia and Africa. Hoping to redeem its reputation, Oxfam has publicly apologised for the 'reprehensible' behaviour of its senior staff, pledging to create an independent commission to review existing practices and culture. Continued government aid to Oxfam is dependent on the organisation disclosing full facts about the 2011 Haiti incident.
As recent events have shown, NGOs working in unstable and dangerous environments can be used as a 'respectable' cover by abusers. Because poverty and opportunism are linked, building a culture that does not tolerate sexual misconduct in this sector is necessary. Equally important is vetting applicants to eliminate those with a history of abuse. In the Oxfam case, a senior director who worked in Haiti obtained a high-level position with a French charity in Bangladesh. Though Oxfam bosses were aware of a culture of sexual abuse as far back as 2007, and anecdotal evidence in 2012 also confirmed this, negligence and complacency were the reason why they ignored the large-scale sexual misconduct. While this scandal must not be allowed to overshadow the compassion of those aid workers who often risk their lives to help the world's poorest communities, honesty and transparency under a moral leadership are required so that such a scandal is not repeated and the dignity of the world's most deprived people is not violated by those who have been tasked with improving their lives.