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Syrian women ‘made to trade sex for aid’: Report

Aid workers said the exploitation is so widespread that some women refuse to visit distribution centres because “people would assume they had offered their bodies for the aid they brought home”.

world Updated: Feb 27, 2018 17:55 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Syria,UN,United Nations Population Fund
A displaced Syrian who her homes in Deir Ezzor city in the country’s northeastern Hassakeh province on February 26, 2018.(AFP / Representative photo)

Days after Oxfam’s relief operations in Haiti were hit by a massive sex scandal, a report says women in strife-hit Syria have been sexually exploited by workers delivering aid on behalf of the UN and international charities.

Aid workers told the BBC that the men would trade food and rides in vehicles for sexual favours. They said the exploitation is so widespread that some women refuse to visit distribution centres because “people would assume they had offered their bodies for the aid they brought home”.

The BBC quoted a United Nations Population Fund report titled “Voices from Syria 2018”, which said: “Examples were given of women or girls marrying officials for a short period of time for ‘sexual services’ in order to receive meals; distributors asking for telephone numbers of women and girls; giving them lifts to their houses ‘to take something in return’ or obtaining distributions ‘in exchange for a visit to her home’ or ‘in exchange for services, such as spending a night with them.’

“Women and girls ‘without male protectors’, such as widows and divorcees as well as female IDPs (internally displaced persons), were regarded as particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation.”

One of the workers the BBC talked to claimed aid agencies were not taking action against sexual exploitation by their workers because the organisations depended on third parties and locals in order to send relief materials into the more dangerous parts of war-torn Syria.

This is not the first time the sexual exploitation of Syrian women has been reported.

In March 2015, a humanitarian adviser for an international charity was told that women from the Dara’a and Quneitra areas of Syria had been offered aid in exchange for sex.

In June that year, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) surveyed 190 women and girls in Dara’a and Quneitra, with around 40% saying they had been sexually exploited when accessing services, including humanitarian aid.

A UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson quoted by the BBC said the body was aware of the allegations in 2015 but there had been insufficient information to identify and take action against those accused. He added the UNHCR has commissioned research to find out more about the incidents and additional efforts were made to strengthen prevention measures, reporting processes and training for local partners.

First Published: Feb 27, 2018 17:55 IST