Indian peacekeeping forces were accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in three cases between 2010 and 2013, a recent United Nations report has revealed, embarrassing the army that contributes the third-largest contingent to UN missions.
The allegations bring back memories of a cash-for-sex scandal in the Democratic Republic of Congo involving Indian personnel in 2008, when an investigation found at least 10 soldiers had sex with prostitutes in violation of the UN code of conduct. There were also allegations of some soldiers fathering children.
"Strictest action is taken against soldiers bringing a bad name to the army on foreign soil. The army is also putting in place tougher rules for monitoring conduct and discipline to curb such cases," said a senior army officer.
The United Nations has 125,000 troops, police and civilians deployed in 16 operations across the world to ensure peace and reduce violence in strife-torn regions. Of these, India accounts for about 7,200 soldiers in nine missions, including those in the Congo, South Sudan and Lebanon.
In recent years, global peacekeeping forces have faced mounting accusations of sexual harassment and abuse of authority, especially in impoverished areas. Figures compiled by the powerful UN Office of Internal Oversight Services record 265 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against international peacekeepers in the last five years.
A draft version of the report accessed by agencies said UN peacekeepers commonly paid for sex with cash, dresses, jewellery, mobile phones and other items with hundreds of women in Haiti and Liberia saying hunger and poverty prompted them to offer sex.
A UN bulletin in 2003 banned transactional sex by peacekeepers because it could compromise the UN's credibility.
The Indian Army has taken several measures to check such cases. For instance, there are flying squads to snoop on men garrisoned in and around the Congo's Goma region.
Raids are regularly conducted at no-go places such as nightclubs, bars and red light areas and troops about to finish their tenure are placed under surveillance because sexual abuse usually occurs in the last two months of duty.
India's South Asian neighbour Bangladesh tops the list of nations contributing to the UN peacekeeping force, followed by Pakistan, which has also faced several allegations of sexual exploitation by its soldiers.