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And ordinary Liberians told IRIN that growing poverty appeared to be fuelling promiscuous sexual behaviour. In its report released this week, Save the Children said officials at camps for displaced Liberians, peacekeepers, government employees and teachers were among those abusing their positions of authority to have sex with girls as young as eight. Previously only gang rape was outlawed.
The report, "From Camp to Community: Liberia Study on Exploitation of Children", based its finding of underage sex against gifts or cash on investigations late last year in four highly populated communities and some camps for displaced people. Some people were interviewed. The United Nations Mission in Liberia UNMIL , which has some 15, troops maintaining peace after 14 years of brutal civil war, said it considered any form of exploitation intolerable and had begun its own investigations.
This team will reiterate the organisation's zero tolerance policy. All specific evidence of sexual exploitation or abuse will be handled by the relevant investigative mechanisms," UNMIL said in a statement on Monday. While allegations of abuse have plagued peacekeeping missions since they first began 50 years ago, the issue was thrust into the spotlight after the UN found last year that peacekeepers in Congo had sex with Congolese women and girls, usually in exchange for food or small gifts of cash.
According to the UN in Liberia, eight reports of sexual abuse and exploitation have been made against UN staff since the beginning of alone. One case has been substantiated and the staff member "immediately suspended"; in another the incident was found to involve an employee from an unidentified contractor - in this case UNMIL cut relations with that organisation. Some of the results were disturbing. More than one in five respondents raised concerns about sexual issues and peacekeepers.
Meanwhile Liberians interviewed by IRIN said the Save the Children report highlighted a worrisome problem and called on their government to act. The behaviour of those men is very bad," said Jeremiah Quiah a university student. Liberia Women Media Action Committee, one of the leading local campaign groups against sexual abuse and exploitation, said even in schools girls are open to abuse by their teachers.