1.3 Why prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse is important in an emergency response

CARE’s vision requires us to focus on discrimination, dignity, security and human rights as central to our work of eliminating poverty. Sexual exploitation and abuse is an issue that goes to the heart of our vision and values, and we need to uphold these values in our programmes as well as in all our interactions with programme participants, our partners and within the organisation.

Our work to prevent and respond to exploitation and abuse of people of concern is based on principles enshrined in international and national laws protecting refugees and displaced people, and in measures for the protection of beneficiaries from exploitation and abuse, such as the United Nations Secretary General’s Bulletin . The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) provides a comprehensive code of rights that offers the highest standards of protection and assistance for children of any international instrument. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (A/RES/48/104) (DEVAW) set the standards for the protection of the rights of women and girls. The declaration affirms that violence against women (including sexual exploitation) is a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women, and impairs their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms. It notes that refugee women are ‘especially vulnerable to violence’. Additionally, staff working in a country should always refer to the national law of the state and the various mechanisms for their implementation.

The prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse in an emergency response is also important because of the potentially disproportionate impact that sexual exploitation and abuse can have in such situations on those affected, and the longer-term effect on recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation. While this section focuses on taking necessary steps to prevent the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, equally critical are precautions and measures for managing those risks and sexual harassment within programme management as they occur. Some of these steps are included in section 2.3.

Emergencies demand responsible and proactive programming that takes all necessary precautions to prevent the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. Careful analysis must be conducted to determine ways in which power balances have shifted and implications these changes have on programmes.

Some practical examples from our work on how simple measures can reduce the incidence of sexual exploitation and abuse of women perpetrated by men include:

  • special considerations in the spatial design of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps
  • IDP camps with separate bathing areas for men and women
  • employing female distribution officers
  • designing projects that target men to reduce sexual exploitation and abuse cases
  • designing strategies to disseminate the relief entitlements and criteria to all potential beneficiaries, and public validations of beneficiary lists.

We are accountable to those we seek to help. It is of paramount importance that we conduct ourselves in a professional manner and make sincere efforts towards preventing and eliminating sexual exploitation and abuse. In December 2006, CARE reiterated its resolve to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse by signing the statement of commitment developed jointly by a number of UN and non-UN agencies (PSEA taskforce).

  • The legal basis for protecting people of concern from exploitation and abuse is established in international law.
  • International law recognises the specific rights of women and children.

International refugee, human rights and humanitarian law, together with regional and national law, constitute the broad framework for the protection of people of concern. Humanitarian workers should rely on this framework in their day-to-day work of protecting people of concern, including women, adolescents, boys and girls.