The initial responses to this universal scandal were in some cases disingenuous and disgusting.
There is no earthly form or shape
Or feature in this earth’s landscape
That deserves the oblivion of the dark
Beauty should remain naked, stark!”
From Gootthun Ma Paani by Bachchoo
Repeating a story told me by an Indian writer inevitably gets a laugh. A classmate of hers in a Delhi college left India to try his luck in New York. In his first week he could only find employment on the night-shift of a petrol station. The night-operator’s cabin was protected by cameras and metal grills, presumably to prevent nuisance and even hold-ups.
On one of his first nights there a black woman, apparently high on drugs, tottered up to the cage in which he sat and said “Gimme ten dollars; I’ll give you a blow-job!” The young man was astounded. His immediate response in his Delhi accent was “ Ai don’t be silly yaar!”
Indians hearing the story inevitably laugh. There’s nothing funny about the poor addicted or stoned woman offering her sexual services. The laugh is occasioned by the spontaneous Delhi University argot.
Nevertheless I think I’ll stop repeating this anecdote as international events this week have framed it in a shameful context: The revelation and investigation into the behaviour of a number of officials of the charity Oxfam in Haiti, where it deployed itself after the earthquake of 2010. The intense relief operation after the devastation lasted two years.
It has now come to light that the chief of Oxfam’s operations and several other officials of the relief agency hired underage prostitutes on the Caribbean island for paedophilic sex.
The revelation was accompanied by the accusation that the international administrators of the charity were alerted to this criminal behaviour but suppressed the information and took half-hearted measures to redeem it. The chief of operations was dismissed months after the revelations, other officials were suspended on full pay, but no measures were taken to see that these paedophiles didn’t attach themselves to other aid agencies.
Oxfam says it didn’t issue any official references to the accused but the disgraced director managed to get good references from high-ranking Oxfam colleagues and was subsequently employed by a Bangladeshi relief agency.
The revelations were followed by resignations from the top level of the charity, the withdrawal of UK government funds and the announcement from several small and large donors to the charity that they would no longer support it.
It then emerged that the charity Medecin Sans Frontieres had in the past years dismissed around 50 of its operatives for the same behaviour.
In the wake of this revelation several voices, which had not been heard before, some of them journalists who had covered events in war zones and disaster areas, spoke up. Their devastating claim was, and is, that paedophiles have infiltrated very many aid charities to get into disaster areas all over the world as respectable officials. Their allegations cover several territories such as South Sudan, Sierra Leone and other places in Africa and Asia where war, insurrections, famine, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis and other manmade or natural disasters have left the population desolate and desperate.
The initial responses to this universal scandal were in some cases disingenuous and disgusting. The victims of these paedophiles were referred to as “prostitutes” and even by some idiots as “sex workers”. This latter term has in the past decades been deployed to bring some dignity to prostitution with the connotation of women (and young men) having a choice as to what to do with their bodies.
I pretend to no naivete when I claim that I have never, in my short and happy life, bought the services of a “sex worker”. From before my teens I was aware of what went on in the “cages” of Mumbai; and as teenagers in Pune we would, on the way to cinemas in the “city”, cycle past the red light district of Budhwar Peth with the painted women leaning out of windows attracting clients by making vulgar kissing sounds on their palms and shouting “coming darling!”
Of course I knew that several older friends and acquaintances had “been there-done that!”
And recently I made the acquaintance in a northern UK town of a rich expatriate Mirpuri, a perfectly respectable family man who took me to a “club” where he said his Estonian girlfriends would serve us drinks. They were of course prostitutes and when I said this he protested. He never paid them for their services, he said, but gave them gold watches, jewellery and took them clothes-shopping for designer outfits — which he claimed made them “girlfriends”. He hadn’t calculated that one girl didn’t need seven top-range watches or 20 pairs of gold earrings and she, or sadder still her trafficker, would sell them on.
If the Estonian genuinely found the work amenable and kept the profits, I suppose she can legitimately class herself as a “sex worker” or even a professional girlfriend with promiscuous tastes.
Not so the hungry, possibly orphaned, destitute children who are picked up by the “aid” predators for the price of a meal, a handful of change or, the reports say, for packets of cigarettes and second-hand mobile phones.
The reports of paedophile infiltration of international charities has resulted in a vast amount of information about their capture by warlords such as Taliban in anarchic zones who then requisition the funds that flow through them.
Nevertheless, the charitable aid agencies do necessary, noble, heroic work all over the world. Most of their volunteers are in it through a missionary, altruistic spirit, which leads them to risk life and limb. Withholding support or withdrawing funds and destroying these agencies is not the only way of preventing paedophile infiltration or the money we contribute (yes, I’ve been paying petty sums into Oxfam) falling into the hands of the likes of the Taliban.