NEW DELHI: The United Nations has promised to act swiftly after allegations following a December investigation appeared in the media, accusing UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic of sexually abusing children.

The findings reveal that at least four UN peacekeepers paid girls as young as 13 for sex in M’poko, a camp for internally displaced people in the capital Bangui. The girls, part of a prostitution ring, were reportedly paid between 50 cents and three dollars.

A report in the Washington Post states: “The United Nations has not publicly released the nationalities of the accused troops or provided details of the alleged abuse. But in interviews, U.N. officials said the peacekeepers were from Gabon, Morocco, Burundi and France. The prostitution ring they allegedly used was run by boys and young men who offered girls “for anywhere from 50 cents to three dollars,” according to one official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation. Some officials say there may be many more cases of exploitation by peacekeepers that have gone unreported. Because there is no regular U.N. presence in M’poko, it has been difficult to gauge the scale of the problem.”

Reports of sexual violence are not new to the camp. Rights group Human Rights Watch documented nine cases of sexual violence between September and December in and around the displacement camp. “Victims said anti-balaka raped them as punishment because the anti-balaka believed they were buying from or selling to Muslims in the Kilomètre 5 enclave, the capital’s last remaining Muslim neighbourhood,” HRW noted. “M’poko is a lawless zone run by anti-balaka thugs a few hundred meters away from the international airport. The camp is not being protected, and women are being raped,” said Lewis Mudge, a Human Rights Watch researcher focused on the Central African Republic, as quoted by The Washington Post.

However, this marks the first time that the UN admitted that its own peacekeepers were part of the problem. “The M’poko camp is unfortunately a place where horrible, unacceptable things happen to women and children,” said Banbury (as quoted in The Washington Post), the assistant secretary general. “In some cases, we have credible allegations that there are U.N. personnel that have committed these crimes.”

That said, this is not the first time the UN troops have been accused of sexual harassment in CAR. The previous U.N. special representative there, retired Senegalese general Babacar Gaye, was fired in August over his team’s handling of the accusations.

Other reports accuse as many as 14 troops from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea of raping and sodomizing six boys between the ages of 9 and 15 in 2013 and 2014, before the UN mission officially began. The UN has since been criticised for not taking any action following the allegations, until a whistleblower leaked the information.

Seperately, in August last year, two women and one girl accused three of rape in the war torn town of Bambari. That same month, a UN peacekeeper was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl during an operation in Bangui’s main Muslim neighborhood. “When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth,” the girl told an Amnesty International researcher.

In the past 14 months, the UN missions in CAR has been accused of 22 other incidents of alleged sexual abuse or sexual exploitation.

The large number of allegations prompted Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling sexual crime by peacekeepers a “cancer in our system.”

Despite the strong words, progress in investigating the allegations has remained slow. Last month, the UN itself published a report saying that poor enforcement of policies in place to deter and report abuse meant that “the credibility of the U.N. and peacekeeping operations are in jeopardy.”

Further, prosecution for the offenses falls to the countries the perpetrators are from. “The U.N. should stop tiptoeing around, trying not to offend governments, and instead put the victims of sexual exploitation and abuse at the heart of their policy,” said Sarah Taylor, an advocate in the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, as quoted by The Washington Post.