Protection from Sexual Exploitation, Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment

UNFPA has zero tolerance for all forms of sexual wrongdoing, whether perpetrated against a recipient of assistance or coworker. Sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment violate human rights and are a betrayal of the core values of the United Nations. 

UNFPA is working closely with United Nations partners to put an end to such abuses through a range of actions. The interests and dignity of those affected guide UNFPA’s approach to prevention, response and assistance.

Policy Framework 

UNFPA adheres to the Secretary-General Bulletin on sexual exploitation and abuse, applicable to all UN staff. Additionally, UNFPA has a dedicated policy on the Prohibition of harassment, sexual harassment, abuse of authority and discrimination. The UNFPA Oversight Policy embodies the principle of zero tolerance for wrongdoing, including sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment.

Prohibition of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment also forms part of UNFPA’s cooperative arrangements with individual contractors, service contract holders and implementing partners. 


UNFPA conducts rigorous pre-employment checks of staff and personnel to prevent the rehiring of known offenders. All UNFPA personnel are required to undergo mandatory online training on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment. 

UNFPA does not partner with entities that fail to appropriately address sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment. 


Any form of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment is prohibited, constitutes misconduct and will be addressed as a matter of priority by UNFPA.

UN staff members are not covered by immunity for acts that constitute crimes, and the Organization does not protect staff who commit such crimes.

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Sexual exploitation and abuse refers to all forms of inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature committed by UN personnel against recipients of assistance and other members of local communities. Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Sexual activity with children (persons under the age of 18) regardless of the age of majority or age of consent locally. Mistaken belief in the age of a child is no defence;
  • Exchange of money, employment, goods or services for sex or sexual favors. This includes any exchange of assistance due to recipients of assistance;
  • Sexual activity with prostitutes, whether or not prostitution is legal in the host country; and
  • Use of a child or adult to procure sex for others.

Sexual relationships between UNFPA personnel and beneficiaries of assistance are strongly discouraged, as they are based on inherently unequal power dynamics and undermine the credibility and integrity of the UN.

UNFPA personnel are obligated to report allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse to the Office of Audit and Investigation Services through the confidential reporting tools available here, including an online reporting form available in five of the official UN languages.

UNFPA investigates all allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, imposes disciplinary and/or administrative sanctions when allegations are proven, and may, through the UN Office of Legal Affairs, refer matters to national authorities for criminal prosecution.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment refers to prohibited conduct in the work context and is defined as “any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favour, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature, or any other behaviour of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another person.”

UNFPA personnel who have been affected by sexual harassment may choose to seek resolution through informal or formal mechanisms. 

Informal Resolution: Affected individuals have the possibility to resolve their grievance in a consensual and non-contentious manner. They may, at any time, seek the assistance of a colleague or supervisor, or consult with the Office of the Ombudsman for confidential advice. 

Formal Resolution: Affected individuals may also choose to file a formal complaint with the Office of Audit and Investigation Services through any of the mechanisms listed above. There is no obligation to attempt informal resolution before filing a complaint. 

Assistance and Protection 

UNFPA staff members are protected from retaliation for reporting allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse or sexual harassment in good faith. Retaliation is prohibited and, if established, constitutes sanctionable misconduct. 

Staff members who believe that they have been the victim of retaliation may seek informal redress or make a formal complaint to the Ethics Office at

UNFPA has institutional experience in responding to gender-based violence. In collaboration with its partners, UNFPA can offer psychosocial assistance and medical treatment. 


UNFPA publishes annually, in anonymized form, details of all investigations of wrongdoing, including those of sexual exploitation and abuse and of sexual harassment, as well as sanctions taken in response. 

Additionally, UNPFA reports, on a real-time basis, all allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse to the Secretary-General. These allegations are published online on a quarterly basis.
As of 20 December 2019

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