Guidance: Safeguarding against sexual exploitation and abuse and harassment (SEAH) in the aid sector

Department For International Development

February 1
12:17 2024

Safeguarding means avoiding harm to people or the environment. Since early 2018, the FCDO has been focused on safeguarding against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment (SEAH) in the international aid sector.

Our goal is to ensure all those involved in poverty reduction take all reasonable steps to prevent harm, particularly SEAH, from occurring:

  • listen to those who are affected
  • respond sensitively but robustly when harm or allegations of harm occur
  • learn from every case.

The FCDOs work on SEAH looks at both the FCDO and the partners we fund with Official Development Assistance (ODA) to deliver development and humanitarian programmes around the world, often with vulnerable people.

In September 2020 the FCDO launched a UK Strategy on safeguarding against sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment in the aid sector that applies to all UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) spend.

This strategy explains what UK government departments that engage in ODA will do to improve safeguarding standards internally, in partner organisations, and across the whole international aid sector. All UK government ODA spending departments signed up to the strategy.

This page provides an overview of the FCDOs work and points to guidance for those working in the aid sector on how to safeguard their people and programmes.

At the FCDO we use the UN definitions for SEAH:

  • sexual exploitation: any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for sexual purposes. Includes profiting momentarily, socially, or politically from sexual exploitation of another. Under UN regulations it includes transactional sex, solicitation of transactional sex and exploitative relationships

  • sexual abuse: the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions. It should cover sexual assault (attempted rape, kissing / touching, forcing someone to perform oral sex / touching) as well as rape. Under UN regulations, all sexual activity with someone under the age of 18 is considered to be sexual abuse

  • sexual harassment: a continuum of unacceptable and unwelcome behaviours and practices of a sexual nature that may include, but are not limited to, sexual suggestions or demands, requests for sexual favours and sexual, verbal or physical conduct or gestures, that are or might reasonably be perceived as offensive or humiliating


FCDO safeguarding standards

The FCDO expects all partners we work with to take all reasonable steps to safeguard the people they come into contact with (including staff and the communities in which programmes are delivered) from SEAH. The FCDO holds ourselves to at least the same high standards we expect of our partners.

Along with other OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors, we adhere to 2 sets of international minimum standards on tackling SEAH:

For partners under an accountable grant or memorandum of understanding (MoU), these standards are reflected in our Safeguarding against SEAH Due Diligence guidance. All FCDO partners delivering a programme via an accountable grant or MoU will have their capability on safeguarding against sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment (SEAH) examined as part of the overall FCDO Due Diligence process.

For partners under a contract, the standards are reflected in our Supply Partner Code of Conduct and terms and conditions (PDF, 350 KB). The Supply Partner Code of Conduct has also applied to partners with whom the FCDO has had an accountable grant from late 2019.

Summary of the 6 areas of SEAH due diligence

SEAH approach:

  • policy
  • standards
  • children and vulnerable adults
  • beneficiary engagement
  • survivor support

Complaints and whistleblowing:

  • policy
  • training
  • internal complaints
  • external complaints
  • case register

Recruitment and training:

  • job descriptions and risk
  • selection and interview
  • references and vetting
  • induction and refresher training

Risk management:

  • SEAH risk category
  • regular review
  • fundraising
  • online risks
  • downstream partners

Code of conduct:

  • code of conduct
  • Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) six core principles
  • staff signature

Governance and accountability:

  • designated board safeguarding lead
  • board handling of SEAH
  • local focal points
  • requirements of others

The principles that FCDO is committed to applying in relation to safeguarding against SEAH and that we expect our partners to apply in their work and through their delivery chains are:

  • everyone has responsibility for safeguarding
  • do no harm
  • organisations have a safeguarding duty of care to beneficiaries and other stakeholders, staff and volunteers, as well as to children and adults-at-risk who may be directly or indirectly delivering or impacted by the programme and may be vulnerable to abuse
  • act with integrity, be transparent and accountable
  • all activity is done in the best interests of the child/at risk person in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 1989, FCDO defines a child as any individual under the age of 18 regardless of the age of majority/consent in a given country
  • all children and adults shall be treated equally, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC); rel

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