Oxfam was warned a decade ago about the crisis in sex abuse among world's aid workers

Steve Bird
Oxfam is weather a storm of criticism that its staff used prostitutes while delivering aid in Haiti - PA

The Oxfam sex abuse crisis deepened last night after it emerged that British aid agencies were warned 10 years ago of an “urgent problem” and the Haiti president accused charities of covering the attacks up.

A report presented to charities in 2008 claimed that children as young as six were forced to sell sex to aid workers in exchange for cash, food and mobile phones.

Oxfam's chief executive admitted today the organisation should have been more open about allegations of sexual abuse by its workers in Haiti.

Mark Goldring said the charity needed to "win back the trust" of the British people. 

"We are sorry for the mistakes we have made," he wrote in a column in the Sunday Mirror. 

"We should have been more open with the public about the fact that staff in Haiti were fired for sexual abuse. And we should have expanded our safeguarding team faster."

He added: "As an organisation that fights for women's rights, the abuse of women in Oxfam's name is particularly hard to bear."

Oxfam CEO Mark Goldring Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley

His apology was of a different tone to the one struck on Friday, when Mr Goldring told the Guardian critics were "gunning" for his organisation and suggested no-one had "murdered babies in their cots".

The emergence of the report comes as the Conservative peer, Baroness Nicholson, who runs a charity, told the Sunday Telegraph that ministers were presiding over a “rotten” foreign aid system where few checks are carried out on how British taxpayers’ money was being used.

The report by Save the Children highlighted how orphans were particularly at risk from abuse as they were made to view “transactional sex as a survival tactic”.

The authors warned that “every agency is at risk” from being infiltrated by perverts after their investigation identified “every kind of child sexual abuse and exploitation imaginable”, including rape, prostitution, sexual slavery and child pornography.

The report, called No One to Turn To, looked at accounts of sex abuse by aid workers and peacekeepers in Haiti, Cote d'Ivoire and southern Sudan in 2007. It found abuse was “chronically under-reported” with victims fearing aid would be withdrawn if they complained.

The report - which warned that the “whole system will remain fundamentally flawed” if action was not taken - will prove uncomfortable reading for bosses at Oxfam who have been told they will not receive new foreign funding after its staff were accused of indulging in sex parties while working in earthquake hit Haiti in 2011.

An Oxfam spokeswoman said: "As a result of the Save the Children report, a senior member of Oxfam staff visited Haiti to assess the situation for himself and measures were put in place. However, these measures proved insufficient and could have been compromised by staff who were later investigated by Oxfam and found guilty of misconduct."

Haiti President Jovenel Moise claimed yesterday that the Oxfam scandal was “the tip of the iceberg” with other aid agencies hiding such assaults.

The Oxfam case is the visible part of the iceberg,” he said. “It is not only Oxfam, there are other non-governmental organisations in the same situation, but they hide the information internally.”

He said Medecins Sans Frontieres had repatriated 17 staff for misconduct which “was not explained”.

An MSF spokeswoman said it takes reports of staff misconduct “very seriously”, but it was unclear what President Moise’s comments referred to. She said staff repatriation could be down to illness, personal reasons, security issues or misconduct.

Baroness Nicholson Credit: Brian Smith

Baroness Nicholson, a former director of Save the Children, accused Labour of “destroying” a world-class system when it separated the aid budget from the Foreign Office to create the Department for International Development (DfID).

The peer runs Amar, a charity which employs local people in Iraq to build and run health and education projects and receives funding from official bodies including the US State Department.

She said the charity has been repeatedly turned down for DfID funding in favour of larger international organisations.

“The thing that has gone wrong is that the DfID doesn't undertake, except in rare instances, regular monitoring. DfID is a rotten system,” she said.

“This is a system failure and this system has been tried out since 1997. I do not believe it is satisfactory. This is the cause of all these scandals. It's time to review the whole approach."

She said that in contrast to her experience with DfID, the “the US State Department monitors scrupulously”, including sending officials on unannounced inspections of her charity's work.

“It is incredibly intensive monitoring - there is a magnifying glass on spending the money, however small it may be. DfID is completely different,” she added.

“We are not serving the poor nearly as well as others are and yet we're spending far more money.

“I see a socialist construct still powering a vast aid department whose reliance on third party delivery takes out the uniquely British way of conquering poverty permanently.

“Great people in DFID are failed by a rotten socialist system.”

Before DfID was set up in 1997, the aid budget was handled by the Overseas Development Administration, a branch of the Foreign Office.