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A Global Register Is Launching to Keep Criminals Out of the Aid Sector

Why Global Citizens Should Care
International aid is saving lives every day, and by far the majority of aid workers have dedicated — even given — their lives in supporting the world’s most vulnerable people. But the whole sector needs to step up in a united effort to make sure we prevent abuse, through actions like the launch of this global register. You can join us by taking action here in support of the mission to end extreme poverty. 

Britain is leading on the creation of a global register of suspected sexual predators — so that they can’t slip under the radar and access work in the aid sector. 

It follows the aid abuse scandal that emerged earlier this year, sending shockwaves through the aid sector and sparking a “concerted global effort” to make sure it never happens again. 

The register has been announced on the eve of a summit on international safeguarding within the aid sector, at which Penny Mordaunt, the UK’s international development secretary, will be speaking. 

Take Action: Tell Your MP Why You're Proud of UK Aid and Call on Them to Make It as Effective as Possible

Interpol and the Association of Chief Police Officers’ criminal records office will reportedly be working alongside the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) on running the register. 

Officials confirmed on Tuesday evening that the government will be putting £2 million into he first year of a 5-year pilot scheme, according to the Guardian

In total, the project — which is reportedly named Soteria after the Greek goddess of protection — will cost an estimated £10 million

It will be an important addition to the sector, both in encouraging law enforcement agencies to work together across borders, but also as a resource for charities. 

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Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will be able to use the register to check the records of employees and potential new hires, according to the Times, and will also be able to upload information themselves. 

“Those in the aid sector will be able to submit a request for checks on prospective employees against national criminal records and Interpol criminal databases,” said DfID on Tuesday. 

“Interpol will process the requests and when an individual who represents a threat to vulnerable beneficiaries is identified, they will work with the relevant authorities to determine the course of action,” it added. 

Officials said, according to the Guardian: “This initiative will help prevent abuse by stopping high risk individuals from being hired and increase the chances of perpetrators being arrested by law enforcement agencies.” 

Mordaunt described the register as a “landmark initiative” in tackling predatory individuals who are “moving from organisation to organisation below the radar.” 

In addition, the conference on Thursday will, according to Mordaunt, mark a “cultural change” across the aid sector.

Mordaunt also told the Times that the change could lead to a rise in safeguarding incidents being reported — but that it would indicate, not a problem getting worse, but a sector “doing the right thing” and seeking an end to abuses by reporting problems. 

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“I have been very clear that when organisations report and their numbers go up, we don’t beat them up,” Mordaunt said. “Had Oxfam done the things that you would have expected — report properly, honour obligations to their donors, the Charity Commission, and the beneficiaries, ensure that individuals of concern were not able to move on to other organisations — then it would not have had the crisis that ensued.” 

Since the scandal emerged, the aid sector has been focusing energies on getting the right systems in place to protect the most vulnerable. 

As Mordaunt said in February: “At their best, UK charities do extraordinary work around the world, saving and transforming lives. It is vital now that the whole sector steps up and demonstrates the leadership that the public expects.” 

In the wake of the scandal, 22 of the UK’s leading aid organisations released a joint letter, saying they were “truly sorry” — and pledging to “do better.” 

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“As organisations whose core aim is to help the most vulnerable people in the world, we must always confront abusive behaviour and the misuse of power,” read the letter, which was published in HuffPost UK. 

The CEOs added that the “widespread distress and disappointment” from the past two weeks goes to demonstrate that people feel “profound compassion for those who need Britain’s help”

“We must honour that instinct, and the rights and needs of the communities we work with, by continuing to deliver vital aid but also changing fundamentally,” it added.

The charities also pledged to a series of “urgent and immediate measures” to ensure it never happens again. 

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These include: 

  • Increasing resources devoted to safeguarding, both for staff and beneficiaries.
  • Review current referencing systems so people found to have abused their power of behaved inappropriately aren’t reemployed in the sector.
  • To work with authorities and regulatory bodies to ensure any individual caught abusing their power can’t do so again. 
  • To work with the government to ensure that we can overcome the legal and institutional barriers to rigorous background checks in the UK. 

“A cultural change is needed to ensure all that can be done to stop sexual exploitation in the aid sector is being done,” said Mordaunt in February. “And we need to take some practical steps. Now.”

“The UK is not waiting for others to act,” she said. “We are taking a lead on this.”