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Sexual exploitation and abuse in international assistance

We are committed to preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse in the delivery of international assistance. This abuse of power and trust violates human rights and undermines our efforts to address gender inequalities and to empower women and girls to reach their full potential. We have zero tolerance for individuals who abuse their position to sexually exploit or abuse the very people they are there to help.

Everyone working in international assistance has the responsibility to step up and address these issues by adopting international best practices. By doing so, we can all help reduce the number of cases of exploitation and abuse and ensure victims and survivors receive the support they need.

Our efforts on preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse in international assistance occur in the context of our humanitarian, development and peace and stabilization work. Visit the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program to learn more about our work in peace and stabilization, including the Women, Peace and Security initiative.

Defining sexual exploitation and abuse

According to the U.N. Secretary-General’s bulletin on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse:

  • Sexual exploitation refers to any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.
  • Sexual abuse refers to an actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.

Sexual activity with children (persons under the age of 18) is prohibited regardless of the age of majority or age of consent locally. Not knowing or mistaking the age of a child is not a defence.

Canada’s international commitments

We are committed to continuing to work with other donors and partner organizations to prevent, address and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse across international assistance. In June 2018, we used the platform of our G7 presidency to negotiate the Whistler Declaration on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in International Assistance. Under this declaration, G7 development ministers committed to working together with their partners to protect individuals from, and respond to, sexual exploitation and abuse in international assistance. We are also a signatory to the Tidewater Joint Statement on Combating Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the Development and Humanitarian Sectors (PDF version, 111 KB). Finally, in October 2018, we endorsed donor commitments at the Safeguarding Summit hosted by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.

We are a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) Reference Group on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. Building on the commitments we made with other donors, the Reference Group prepared the OECD-DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance, adopted in July 2019.

We are also a member of the United Kingdom’s Technical Working Group on Safeguarding.

Canada’s work with the United Nations

We continue to work with the UN to support initiatives that strengthen the international response to sexual exploitation and abuse. We have supported the UN’s efforts by providing financial support to the UN Office of the Special Coordinator on improving the United Nations response to sexual exploitation and abuse and to the UN Trust Fund in support of victims of these acts. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a member of the UN Secretary-General’s Circle of Leadership and supports the Collective Statement of its members. We are also a signatory to the UN Secretary-General’s Voluntary Compact on preventing and addressing sexual exploitation and abuse and the Action for Peacekeeping Declaration.

We are a strong voice for the full implementation of the UN’s zero tolerance policy and have urged troop and police contributors, as well as UN agencies, to uphold their obligations to investigate allegations and take action. We strongly believe that there should be a system-wide approach to combatting sexual exploitation and abuse across all UN bodies and member states.

We are also working to combat sexual exploitation and abuse through our chairing of the:

  • Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security
  • Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict
  • Geneva Group on Gender

Canada’s work with Canadian civil society partners 

Global Affairs Canada’s civil society partners are committed to addressing sexual exploitation and abuse in the delivery of international assistance. The department works closely with Cooperation Canada Steering Committee to Address and Prevent Sexual Misconduct. This partnership aims to share best practices and increase partner capacity for prevention and response, especially among smaller organizations.

Many Canadian development and humanitarian organizations have signed Cooperation Canada’s Leaders’ Pledge on Preventing and Addressing Sexual Misconduct (PDF version, 188 KB). In signing the pledge, these organizations commit to implementing policies and practices that protect their own staff, volunteers and the communities they serve from sexual exploitation and abuse.

Canada’s expectations of implementing partners

We expect recipients of Canadian funding to follow international best practices and to take appropriate measures to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse. The Minister for International Development sent a letter to all Canadian international assistance partners receiving Canadian funding in May 2018 describing these expectations.

One of these expectations was for partners to have publically available codes of conduct covering sexual exploitation and abuse. The department’s General Terms & Conditions for Contribution Agreements require partner organizations signing a new contribution agreement for international development assistance to have or develop a publicly available Code of Conduct on prevention and response to sexual exploitation and abuse.

Our guidelines on applying for International Humanitarian Assistance, outline how partners must align their codes of conduct with the Inter Agency Standing Committee’s six core principles relating to sexual exploitation and abuse and the accompanying eight minimum operating standards.

Since September 1, 2019, we require partner organizations to have a code of conduct to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse in place to apply for development and humanitarian funding.

We expect partner organizations to inform the department of any allegations arising in the delivery of Canadian international assistance. Multilateral partners will follow their specific protocols to report sexual exploitation and abuse. More information on this requirement, including the reporting form to use to report allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, can be found in the expectations for reporting sexual exploitation and abuse in international assistance.

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