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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Sexual exploitation and abuse

© UNICEF/ HQ01-0460/Bronstein
The Kotkai camp for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. UNICEF is coordinating the provision of water and sanitation for the camp, in addition to supporting a health centre and providing other services.

Sexual exploitation is a form of gender-based violence that is all too frequently a characteristic of warfare. In situations of armed conflict, girls and women are routinely targeted in campaigns of gender-based violence, including rape, mutilation, prostitution, forced pregnancy and sexual slavery. Rape has been used systematically as a weapon of war and as a means to terrorize populations and destroy community ties. Adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to rape, abduction, trafficking and prostitution.  During humanitarian crises, girls and women are faced with limited economic opportunities. Desperate to support themselves and their families, they may be forced into alliances with military forces, including peacekeepers and even humanitarian personnel, as a means to negotiate safety and survival. Those who have been employed to protect vulnerable populations may abuse their power with impunity.

"We were all flattered by the attention they gave us, but now it has turned into a nightmare.” 
Young girl recruited as an informant for an armed group

In humanitarian crises, UNICEF works to ensure the safety of children and women, focusing its efforts in three areas: prevention; protection; and recovery and reintegration. UNICEF field offices have increased protection for children and women at risk, and supported these efforts with policy and programme guidance. In Sierra Leone, for example, together with its partners, UNICEF has established procedures for the immediate protection of children in camps and communities and developed a community monitoring and reporting system for sexual exploitation and child abuse for both camp and non-camp populations.

UNICEF has also produced training materials for its staff and partners on the prevention of sexual abuse and exploitation. Training is underway in several regions, including Southern and West Africa.

In 2002, following allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by aid workers and peacekeepers, UNICEF became co-chair of the IASC Task Force on Protection from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in Humanitarian Crises. The Task Force has received a committed and coordinated response from the humanitarian community to prevent and address sexual abuse and exploitation. Among the measures outlined in the Task Force Plan of Action is the requirement that a set of six core principles be incorporated into all IASC codes of conduct, including a principle prohibiting sexual activity with persons under the age of 18, regardless of the age of majority or age of consent locally. The Task Force has also called for greater transparency and accountability in the delivery of humanitarian assistance. It is playing a lead role in developing mechanisms to prevent abuse and to ensure accountability.

Related documents

Report of the Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises
The Plan of action and Report outline a number of steps that the Task Force determined must be taken by the humanitarian community toward preventing sexual abuse and exploitation, responding to survivor needs and holding perpertrators accountable.

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
The Optional Protocol gives special emphasis to the criminalization of serious violations of children's rights - namely the sale of children, illegal adoption, child prostitution and pornography.
[Web page]

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Guidelines for prevention and response
These Guidelines offer practical advice on how to design strategies and carry out activities aimed at preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence. They also contain information on basic health, legal, security and human rights issues relevant to those strategies and activities.

Profiting from Abuse: An investigation into sexual exploitation of our children
This report, a tribute to the courage of the many children who have been affected by commercial sexual exploitation, presents moving words from the children themselves, as well as informed opinions of distinguished personalities and authorities on the issue.



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