May 8, 2006

Peacekeepers, teachers prey on Liberia girls: report

By Alphonso Toweh

MONROVIA (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers, aid workers and
teachers are having sex with Liberian girls as young as 8 in
return for money, food or favors, threatening efforts to
rebuild a nation wrecked by war, a report said on Monday.

Save the Children UK said an alarming number of girls were
being sexually exploited by men in authority in refugee camps
and in the wider community, sometimes for as little as a bottle
of beer, a ride in an aid vehicle or watching a film.

"This cannot continue," Save the Children UK Chief
Executive Jasmine Whitbread said. "Men who use positions of
power to take advantage of vulnerable children must be reported
and fired."

"More must be done to support children and their families
to make a living without turning to this kind of desperation."

The 20-page document said local people reported sexual
exploitation by peacekeepers in every location where a
contingent of the UNMIL peacekeeping force was stationed,
highlighting the continuing problem of sex abuse by U.N.

Allegations of sexual misconduct have dogged U.N.
operations in Liberia, Ivory Coast, Haiti and especially in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, where the world body has accused
members of its biggest peacekeeping force of rape, pedophilia
and giving children food or money in return for sex.

The U.N. force in Liberia said in a statement eight cases
of sexual exploitation and abuse involving U.N. personnel had
been reported since the start of 2006. One of those had been
substantiated and the member of staff suspended.

"We are appalled with any activity, the sexual exploitation
or abuse by aid workers, be they international or Liberian.
It's unacceptable behavior," Jordan Ryan, the U.N.'s
humanitarian coordinator in Liberia, told BBC radio in London
from Monrovia.

Save the Children called on Liberia's new government, U.N.
agencies and donors to set up a government-led ombudsman office
to ensure cases of sexual exploitation against children are
investigated and promote a policy of zero tolerance.

Countries which contribute troops to the U.N. force should
also ensure soldiers who sexually exploited children are
charged and those found guilty removed from the force, it said.


Liberian society has been shattered by a 1989-2003 civil
war which caused an estimated 250,000 deaths in a country of
barely 3 million people, forcing around 1.3 million people from
their homes into camps around the capital Monrovia or abroad.

Elections late last year saw Harvard-trained former World
Bank economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf voted in as president, but
her government faces a massive task to rebuild an economy and
society torn apart by years of bloodshed.

The report's compilers spoke to more than 300 people in
camps for displaced people and communities where people had
recently returned to their pre-war localities.

"All of the respondents clearly stated that they felt that
the scale of the problem affected over half of the girls in
their locations," it said, adding aid workers, teachers, camp
and government employees, policemen and soldiers were involved.

"The girls reportedly ranged in age from 8 to 18 years,
with girls of 12 years and upwards identified as being
regularly involved in 'selling sex'," commonly referred to as
"man business," it said.

It did not give a total number for estimated cases of
sexual exploitation in Liberia.

(Additional reporting by Alistair Thomson in Dakar and Tim
Castle in London)