On the heels of child sex abuse reports in the Central African Republic by French soldiers, the United Nations announced Tuesday that an investigation is under way into whether U.N. peacekeepers also abused street children.
“We’re obviously looking into it,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general in a press briefing. “Medical care and assistance is being provided to the alleged victims.”
Little information about the nature of the abuse, the country of origin of the peacekeepers accused of abuses, and the number of victims is available. However, Al Jazeera reported yesterday that Morocco was contacted to investigate allegations that one of its soldiers raped a girl younger than 16 years old.
Dujarric said that more than one child was involved, that the abuses may extend back to 2014 and took place in the capital city of Bangui.
The abuse came to the attention of the U.N. mission on June 19 and the country contributing the accused troops was notified the following day. The U.N. says it is taking a hard line against abuse.
“If the allegations are substantiated, this would constitute a grave violation of U.N. principles and code of conduct for U.N. peacekeepers. The member state would be requested to take swift and appropriate punitive action,” said Dujarric.
The U.N. faced sharp criticism for its handling of sex abuse allegations last month. It took a leaked report published by the Guardian to bring attention to the slow process of investigating crimes committed by foreign soldiers in the period before U.N. peacekeepers arrived in the Central African Republic.
Sexual abuse incidents at the hands of U.N. peacekeeping forces have long dogged the global body. Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan made it a priority issue during his tenure. He pledged to stop it back in 2003. His successor and current head of the U.N., Ban Ki-moon, made a similar pledge in 2012. Despite the efforts to eliminate abuses carried out by peacekeepers, incidents continue.
More than 125,000 people are deployed by the U.N. around the world. A total of 480 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse connected to peacekeeping and special missions were received by the U.N. between 2008 and 2013. South Africa, Uruguay and Nigeria were the countries of origin with the most accusations. And the majority of abuses took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Haiti and South Sudan.
Fifty-one allegations of sexual abuse were levied against peacekeepers in 2014 alone. The information comes from a draft report by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services acquired by Reuters earlier this month. The report finds that U.N. peacekeepers used money, dresses, jewelry and cell phones to pay for sex with the people they are meant to protect.
“Evidence from two peacekeeping mission countries demonstrates that transactional sex is quite common but underreported in peacekeeping missions,” said the draft, according to Reuters.
In the Central African Republic, investigations continue into the abuses carried out before the U.N. arrived. A newly appointed panel will look into the allegations and the handling of the cases by those involved.