Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province has been gripped by conflict since 2018, involving militant Islamist fighters and Mozambican security forces. The conflict has displaced thousands of people, leading them to seek refuge in camps for internally displaced people. Shocking reports now emerge of local relief workers allegedly demanding sex in exchange for food aid from vulnerable women in these camps.
Macia [not real name], a 16-year-old girl who escaped the conflict while pregnant, has accused relief workers of forcing her to exchange sex for food since 2020. She is now pregnant again and feels compelled to continue these exchanges to satisfy her pregnancy cravings.
The internally displaced persons (IDPs) in these camps, numbering close to 14,000, rely heavily on humanitarian aid, primarily from organizations like the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and Caritas, a Catholic aid organization. Relief workers, often appointed by community leaders, are responsible for distributing aid, making them key figures in the lives of these IDPs.
Several women have come forward, like Macia, alleging that relief workers have been demanding sex and money in return for food aid. The relief workers, though intended to be hired by Mozambique’s government to distribute aid, are appointed by community leaders, creating vulnerabilities in the system.
Women who’ve experienced sexual exploitation describe how community leaders, who control food aid distribution, leverage their power. Macia was told she didn’t qualify for food aid because she was a woman and that she could receive assistance if she gave in to the sexual demands of a community leader.
The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) acknowledged receiving reports of abuse since 2019 but stated that it has not conducted investigations against local leaders. Instead, they refer victims to gender-based violence services that offer psychosocial support and legal assistance.
Despite survivors being too scared to name their abusers, allegations point to specific relief workers who have allegedly abused multiple women. The systemic issue also involves the community leaders’ lack of expertise, corruption, and favoritism in distributing aid meant for IDPs.
The situation in Cabo Delgado reflects a broader crisis in Mozambique, where the government has failed to provide adequate support for IDPs. Local chiefs and community leaders, affiliated with the ruling party, have been tasked with distributing aid without accountability. This situation contributes to the vulnerability of displaced individuals and enables abuse.
The women who have suffered sexual exploitation in exchange for food aid express their pain and helplessness. Macia’s dreams of becoming a lawyer have been shattered by the war and her experiences in the camp. The abuse they endure highlights the urgent need for systemic changes and accountability in humanitarian aid distribution.
The conflict in Cabo Delgado is often overlooked globally, but the Mozambican government’s negligence in supporting IDPs exacerbates the crisis. It remains to be seen whether any justice or resolution will emerge for the survivors of sexual exploitation in these camps.