Aid group Oxfam Great Britain will be suspended from operating in Haiti for the next two months pending an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by its employees, a government official said Thursday.
Haiti is investigating how Oxfam Great Britain responded to reports that some of its staff used prostitutes while working in the country in the aftermath of the devastating January 2010 earthquake, said Minister of Planning and External Cooperation Aviol Fleurant. It is also trying to determine whether some of the prostitutes may have been underage.
Authorities consider it a "serious crime" for an adult to have sex with anyone under 18, Fleurant said. He said the Haitian government is "shocked at the highest level" about reports of misconduct by employees of the organization.
Oxfam International Regional Director Simon Ticehurst said he and others with the organization have been meeting with Haitian officials and providing information to assist with the investigation.
"This is part of an ongoing process of collaboration with the Haitian government," Ticehurst told reporters in Port-au-Prince.
Oxfam Great Britain is one of four divisions of the international organization working in Haiti. The aid group disclosed that seven workers were fired or resigned in 2011 after a whistleblower accused staff members of misconduct while working in the country. The organization has admitted that some of its employees used sex workers.
British government officials and that country's charity regulator have said that Oxfam didn't tell them the allegations included sexual misconduct until Britain's Times newspaper revealed details of the case earlier this month. Since then, thousands of people have canceled donations to the group in anger.
Oxfam International, the umbrella organization, has apologized to the people of Haiti and said it has created a new plan to improve oversight of its employees.
Oxfam Great Britain contributes about 20 percent of the budget to the organization's overall work in Haiti and the group expects the suspension will have a "significant impact" on its efforts in the country, the group said in a statement following the announcement.
In a statement earlier this week, Oxfam said it hoped that its apologies and its response will restore public trust in the organization.
"We are saddened that Oxfam's great work around the world, including in Haiti where we have worked for 40 years, has been marred by the actions of a group of men who abused the power they held over vulnerable women, but also by our own failings at the time," it said.