British foreign aid workers who father children abroad are being tracked down using genealogy technology by researchers at King’s College London.
It comes in the wake of the Oxfam scandal of 2011, when the aid sector was rocked by allegations that staff had engaged in sexual misconduct with victims of the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
Six test cases have already been completed in the Philippines, with men identified in Australia, Canada, the United States and Britain as having fathered children in the country, either through sex tourism or in relation to aid work.
One British man, a former aid worker for the World Bank, was discovered to have fathered two children in the country around 20 years ago.
The man, now in his 70s, was tracked down in the UK by the team using publicly available data and has now accepted the children.
Andrew MacLeod, a lawyer at Griffin Law, visiting professor at King’s and the cofounder of Hear Their Cries, an anti-child abuse charity in Switerland, is leading the project, which has been awarded around £44,000 in funding by King’s to expand into central and western Africa.
“We’ve got a small amount of funding at King’s College to take a second go at the proof of concept, where we’re now identifying partners, women and children to repeat the programme we did in the Philippines… in those parts of central and West Africa where almost certainly the fathers will be aid workers,” Mr MacLeod told The Telegraph.
The funding will also go towards hiring an academic at the university to conduct research into the “underreported nature” of sexual abuse in the aid industry, he said.
Ultimately, the project hopes to become a “permanent international institution” which “does nothing but to seek out and find victims of abuse”, Mr MacLeod said.
DNA samples will be returned to London
Once a suspected victim of aid worker abuse is found, the team on the ground will take a DNA sample and return it to London.
Mr MacLeod then works on behalf of each individual victim to help them track down their father using publicly available DNA databases.
In California, police used public family tree data to trace the “Golden State Killer”, who killed 12 people and raped 45 women between 1975 and 1986. His fingerprint had sat on file for decades unidentified.
Although the killer hadn’t uploaded his data to the public sites himself a distant relative had, which allowed the police to track him down in 2018.
Denise Syndercombe Court, Professor of Forensic Genetics at King’s College said the university’s forensics department is working with other faculties on a six month pilot of the project “to fully document the extent of the issue and to provide genetic evidence to support this”.
“We plan to present this at an internationally-focussed conference around May 2021 (dependent on Covid-19 restrictions) with the aim of getting national and international governmental, industry and charity support to provide strategies to limit this abuse ongoing,” Prof Syndercombe Court said.
Mr MacLeod, who has been lobbying Governments on the issue of aid victim exploitation for decades after previously holding senior roles within the UN, said there has so far been no “meaningful change” within the industry.
But he added with the latest genetic genealogy technology now available, and the ability to use it to hold perpetrators to account, he has “all the tools” at his disposal.