Syrian women 'are forced to offer sex' for emergency aid
Women in refugee camps in Syria have been forced to offer sexual favours in return for aid from the UN and international charities, it has been reported.
Aid workers would allegedly regularly harass and abuse women and girls trying to access humanitarian assistance in the war-torn country, to the point that some stopped asking for help, a UN Population Fund (UNFPA) report claimed.
Some victims were allegedly forced to marry locally hired officials working for the UN and other international charities for "sexual services" in order to receive aid, the assessment of gender-based violence in the region last year also concluded.
The UN had been warned of such activity three years before, but the report suggests the abuse was continuing until at least late 2017.
The report, Voices From Syria 2018, claimed that aid distribution sites are often perceived by women as unsafe places that are dominated by men.
Women and girls "without male protectors", such as widows and divorcees as well as female refugees, were regarded as particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
"We have heard about a few cases where women are exploited during aid distributions," one woman told interviewers from the UNFPA.
"Some distributors might ask for a woman's phone number, or they might give her a lift to her house to take something in return," she 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, obtaining distributions in exchange for a visit to her home or "in exchange for services, such as spending the night with them".
The report quoted a teenage girl from Idlib in northern Syria as saying: "The more the girl gives to the distributor, the more aid she will receive."
The sexual exploitation - and the threat of it - in some cases became a barrier to accessing humanitarian aid, the UN said.
The teenage girl, whose identity has been protected, said some women had given up asking for aid for fear they would have to pay with their bodies.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC), headed by former British politician David Miliband, released its own survey more than two years ago, which indicated similar abuse was happening in 2015.
It said about 40pc of those interviewed said sexual violence took place when they were accessing services in the southern Syrian cities of Daraa and Quneitra.
"Sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls has been ignored, it's been known about and ignored for seven years," said Danielle Spencer, a charity humanitarian adviser.
"Somewhere there has been a decision made that it is OK for women's bodies to continue to be used, abused, violated in order for aid to be delivered for a larger group of people," she said.
Revelations earlier this month that Oxfam workers paid for prostitutes during Haiti's 2010 earthquake have exposed a widespread problem in the sector.