A leading UK charity said that children as young as six are being sexually abused by peacekeepers and aid workers.
In post-conflict areas, children are being abused by the very people drafted into such zones to hep look after them, says Save the Children.
The charity did research in Ivory Coast, southern Sudan and Haiti and proposed an international watchdog be set up.
Three workers have been sacked by Save the Children for breaching its codes, and the organisation called on others to do the same.
In the past year three men were all dismissed for having sex with 17-year-old girls. Even though it is not illegal, the charity said it was a sackable offence.
The UN has welcomed the charity’s report and will study it closely.
The most shocking aspect of child sex abuse, said Save the Children, is that, the children being to scared to speak out, most of it goes unreported, therefore unpunished.
“Elisabeth”, a 13-year-old girl, told to the BBC how she has been gang-raped by 10 UN peacekeepers in a field near her Ivory Coast home.
“They grabbed me and threw me to the ground and they forced themselves on me… I tried to escape but there were 10 of them and I could do nothing” she said.
“I was terrified. Then they just left me there bleeding.”
No action has been taken against the soldiers.
Save the Children’s report also found that boys and girls have been sexually abused by boys and girls.
“In recent years, some important commitments have been made by the UN, the wider international community and by humanitarian and aid agencies to act on this problem” said Jasmine Whitbread (photo), Save the Children UK chief executive.
“However, all humanitarian and peacekeeping agencies working in emergency situations, including Save the Children UK, must own up to the fact that they are vulnerable to this problem and tackle it head on.”
As a consequence to the research involving hundreds of children from Ivory Coast, southern Sudan and Haiti, the charity said better reporting mechanisms needed to be introduced in order to deal with what it called “endemic failures” in responding to reported cases of abuse.
The report also said that efforts should be made to strengthen worldwide child protection systems.
Little is being done to support the victims says Heather Kerr, Save the Children’s Ivory Coast country director.
“It’s a minority of people but they are using their power to sexually exploit children who don’t have the voice to report about this.”
“They are suffering sexual exploitation and abuse in silence.”
According to Save the Children, the international community has promised a policy of zero-tolerance to child sexual abuse, but it is not being followed up by action on the ground.
Ensuring “zero incidents” is impossible within an organisation that has up to 200 000 persnnel serving around the world, said Nick Birnback.
“What we can do is get across a message of zero tolerance, which for us means zero complacency when credible allegations are raised and zero impunity when we find that there has been malfeasance that’s occurred” he told the BBC.