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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 12:58 GMT
Aid-for-sex children speak out
Refugees in Liberia
Poverty has made thousands of refugees desperate
West African refugee children have described being sexually exploited by aid workers who offer as little as a few cents or a biscuit for sexual favours.

I sleep with mostly NGO workers because I have to eat and feed my child

Teenage mother, Liberia
"It's difficult to escape the trap of those people; they use the food as bait to get you to sex with them," an adolescent in Liberia told interviewers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children.

Girls spoke of being given oil, bulgur wheat, tarpaulins or plastic sheeting, medicines, transport, ration cards, loans and access to education in exchange for sex with workers employed locally by humanitarian non-governmental agencies (NGOs).

Teenage mothers said they had to sell their bodies to feed their children.

"I leave my child with my little sister, who is 10 years old, and I dress good and I go where the NGO workers drink or live and one of them will ask me for sex," a young Liberian mother said.

"Sometimes they give me things like food, oil, soap and I will sell them and get money.

UNHCR aid workers in Guinea
Many refugees depend on aid agencies
"I sleep with different men but mostly NGO workers because I have to eat and feed my child."

Although humanitarian workers were reported to pay more than other men, the report said they might pay as little as 10 US cents for sex with a Liberian refugee girl - enough to buy a handful of peanuts.

Some girls said aid workers had fathered their children and then deserted them.

"An NGO worker made me pregnant but now he left me and is loving to (sic) another young girl," a teenage mother in Guinea told the interviewers, who questioned 1500 people in the assessment.

The girls' comments suggested a climate of fear fostered by their extreme dependence on aid personnel.

If you see a young girl walking away with tarpaulin on her head you know how she got it

Refugee leader, Guinea
"If I tell you the name of the NGO worker I have to sex with (sic), he will get fired, and then how will I feed my child and myself?" a young mother in Guinea asked.

The children's stories were confirmed by adults.

"In this community no one can access CSB (a soya nutrient), without having sex first. They say: 'A kilo for sex'," a refugee woman in Guinea told the interviewers.

And a man in Sierra Leone said: "If you do not have a wife or a sister or a daughter to offer the NGO workers, it is hard to have access to aid."

The report also quoted refugee leaders in Guinea as saying "if you see a young girl walking away with tarpaulin on her head you know how she got it".

Peacekeepers implicated

Most of the girls who said they had been sexually exploited were aged between 13 and 18.

Their comments implicated a range of international and local NGOs, government agencies delivering humanitarian aid, and UN peacekeepers.

Peacekeepers were reported to pay the highest prices - ranging from US$5 to $300 - for sex, with stories of several soldiers clubbing together to have sex with one child.

"When ma asked me to go to the stream to wash plates, a peacekeeper asked me to take my clothes off so that he can take a picture. When I asked him to give me money he told me: 'No money for children only biscuit'," one girl said.

See also:

26 Feb 02 | Africa
Child refugee sex scandal
13 Feb 02 | Africa
Sierra Leone refugees go home
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