The prostitution scandal engulfing international aid charity Oxfam is a symptom of a “global problem” in the aid industry, a former senior UN aid worker says.
Oxfam is battling the fallout from revelations some of its staff engaged sex workers while delivering aid after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
The charity’s deputy chief Penny Lawrence resigned on Monday night over what she described as the charity’s failure to adequately respond to the past allegations.
Aid agencies Save the Children, the British Red Cross and Christian Aid have also confirmed reports of inappropriate sexual behaviour involving their staff.
But Andrew MacLeod, former chief of operations of the UN’s Emergency Coordination Centre and Red Cross aid worker, said the Oxfam scandal is just the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s a global problem across all charities, including the United Nations,” Mr MacLeod said.
While there are no allegations of underage sexual behaviour in relation to the recent revelations, Mr MacLeod said Britain’s National Crime Agency had warned since 1999, predatory child sex offenders targeted the developing world.
“Their chosen methodology to get access to children is to join a children’s charity. That sounds both disgusting and unfortunately logical,” he said.
The UN said last year there were 145 cases of sexual exploitation involving 311 victims reported within peacekeeping in 2016 alone.
“The secretary-general admitted the problem [of sexual exploitation] is not just in peacekeeping, it’s also in the civilian side of the United Nations,” Mr MacLeod said.
‘Wild sex parties’
Among the allegations is that the head of Oxfam in Haiti had “wild sex parties” with multiple sex workers.
After Oxfam conducted its investigation into the allegations, many of the aid workers involved were allowed to resign — including the regional head of the mission.
Mr MacLeod said some of those workers who resigned were even given good references.
“It’s ludicrous … the moral leadership vacuum in that organisation that somehow thought … you can sleep with prostitutes while you are supposed to be delivering aid,” he said.
“And then the institution that turns around and thinks doing a report and sending it up to the board is enough.
“Now let’s be clear here, in Haiti prostitution is illegal, so in Haiti these actions were illegal.”
Mr MacLeod said charities were not above the law and at the very least they should have reported the crimes to the Haitian police force.
“The excuse that Oxfam has used is, ‘Oh, we didn’t think the police would do anything’ — and somehow morally they think that’s right?”
How do you ‘fix aid’?
Mr MacLeod stressed that the vast majority of aid workers were “good people doing good work”, and that this should not be used as an excuse to cut aid.
But Mr MacLeod believes aid should be redistributed by taking funds away from Oxfam as punishment, and diverting that funding to another charity.
“The two things that will shock the charity system into fixing this — one, cut some funding, and two, put some people in jail,” he said.
The way to “fix aid”, he said, was to put in place mandatory reporting between aid agencies, the UN and host governments whenever there was an accusation against an aid worker.
“That accusation, particularly on the child sex issue, must be transferred back to their home country when countries have child sex tourism laws, so those home countries can investigate,” Mr MacLeod said.
“Secondly, there needs to be an independent whistleblowing mechanism set up.”
Oxfam’s UK headquarters did not respond to the ABC’s request for comment or interview