By Umberto Bacchi
LONDON, Oct 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Time is up for sexual predators in the aid sector, Britain's development minister said on Thursday, as she announced new measures to clamp down on sexual abuse and exploitation after a series of scandals.
Penny Mordaunt said it was a "pivotal moment" for the aid industry ahead of an international summit on the issue where the British government will announce details of a joint initiative with Interpol to stop sexual predators from getting jobs.
"This a moment to say: 'No more'. We have to give the people that we are here to help the protection that they need," she said in a statement.
Revelations earlier this year that Oxfam staff used prostitutes in Haiti snowballed into widespread reports of misconduct in the aid sector, plunging it into the global spotlight.
Organisations have since pledged to do more to flush out offenders, but Britain's charity watchdog said on Wednesday it believed a significant number of incidents still went unreported.
Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) said on Thursday it would work with Interpol on a 10 million pound ($13.14 million) pilot project to strengthen the vetting of aid workers through an online platform.
Aid agencies could require future employees to be checked against national criminal records and Interpol databases under the scheme, named Operation Soteria after the Greek goddess of safety.
"Our message to sexual predators using the sector as a cover for their crimes is 'Your time is up'," said Mordaunt.
An August survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation found aid agencies expected reports of sexual misconduct to rise as they cracked down on staff offences and improved safeguarding mechanisms.
An earlier poll had found more than 120 staff from 21 leading global charities were fired or lost their jobs in 2017 over sexual misconduct.
Operation Soteria is to be led by Interpol, with help from Britain's criminal records office (ACRO). Save the Children will coordinate the participating charities.
A team of up to nine detectives will also be deployed in two regional hubs in Africa and Asia to help poorer countries improve their criminal records systems, DFID said.
It was not immediately clear when the project - set to last five years - would start and what the terms of participation of other nations were. Britain said it was to commit 2 million pounds for the scheme's first year.
"A critical part of Interpol's mission is to protect the most vulnerable members of society from the most dangerous," Interpol secretary general Jurgen Stock said in a statement.
"This is all the more important when sexual predators attempt to exploit the very people – be it men, women or children - they are supposed to be safeguarding from harm." ($1 = 0.7612 pounds) (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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