Allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of women in exchange for humanitarian aid have reemerged in Mozambique, this time among people displaced by armed Islamist groups in the northern Cabo Delgado province.
Last month, while interviewing internally displaced people (IDPs), I spoke with a 23-year-old woman called Abiba, who described sexual harassment by a relief worker. She told me that after she arrived by boat at Paquitequete beach in Pemba, the provincial capital, a relief worker assisting the IDPs offered her a safe place to stay in an accommodation center if she would have sex with him. Abiba refused and for fear of further harassment didn’t approach local authorities for help. Instead, she decided to stay at the house of another IDP’s relative in Pemba -- with 38 other people.
Last year, the Center for Public Integrity, a Mozambican nongovernmental organization, reported that community leaders sexually abused dozens of displaced women in Cabo Delgado in exchange for humanitarian aid.
An investigation by the Centre for Investigative Journalism (Mozambique), published this week, similarly found that some aid workers demanded money or sex before distributing food parcels to women in various IDP camps across Cabo Delgado province.
Unfortunately, these accusations are not new.
In 2019, Human Rights Watch reported that survivors of Cyclone Idai in central Mozambique were being forced to have sex with community leaders in exchange for food. Two years later, Human Rights Watch is unaware of any public commitment or actions taken by the Mozambican government to investigate or punish those responsible for such abuses.
The sexual exploitation of women who are already vulnerable and in dire need of assistance for themselves and their families is cruel and should be stopped immediately. The Mozambican authorities should investigate and appropriately prosecute those using their positions of power to commit these crimes and ensure that women and girls who are fleeing violence get the protection and assistance they need.