UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that the United Nations will investigate allegations by a leading children's charity that U.N. peacekeepers are involved in widespread sexual abuse of children.
The report by Save the Children UK, based on field research in southern Sudan, Ivory Coast and Haiti, describes a litany of sexual crimes committed by peacekeepers and international relief workers against children as young as 6.
It said some children were denied food aid unless they granted sexual favors; others were forced to have sex or to take part in child pornography; many more were subjected to improper touching or kissing.
"The report shows sexual abuse has been widely underreported because children are afraid to come forward," said Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children UK.
Calling the sexual exploitation of minors a "very serious issue," Ban reiterated to reporters that he has a "zero tolerance" policy for such acts by U.N. personnel.
"I think that the report is very valuable and does give us some good points to which the United Nations should continue to address this issue," Ban said. U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas noted that the report says the United Nations has already undertaken steps designed to tackle the problem, from establishing conduct and discipline units in all U.N. missions to strengthening training for all categories of U.N. personnel. She said the United Nations also needs to strengthen its investigative capacity.
The report said that more than half the children interviewed knew of cases of sexual abuse and that in many instances children knew of 10 or more such incidents perpetuated by aid workers or peacekeepers. The threat of retaliation, and the stigma attached to sexual abuse, were powerful deterrents to coming forward, the report said.