UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, Monusco  (Reuters)

A UN peacekeeper in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been suspended over claims that he had a child with an underage girl.

Reports of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations (UN) personnel of vulnerable people – often the very people that these UN workers were supposed to protect – have been surfacing for years.

The UN's mission to DRC (Monusco), the largest and most expensive peacekeeping mission in the world, is no exception. It has been hit by a series of child sex abuse scandals in recent years.

The military observer is among five peacekeepers accused of acts of sexual abuse and exploitation in the first three months of 2017, according to Adama Ndao, head of the conduct and discipline team for the Monusco, who was quoted by BBC on Friday (28 April).

Two South African soldiers and two non-military Monusco officials, from Burundi and Niger, are among the accused, Ndao said.

All the accused have been suspended pending the result of official investigations.

Under Congolese law, anyone under 18 is considered a minor, and the underage girl has been put under the care of the UN children's agency (Unicef), Ndao said.

All the other cases involve alleged victims over 18. Two women have demanded paternal recognition from the peacekeepers they had sex with. One of the complainants has already had her baby. The other is still pregnant.

Last month, the UN agreed to to settle for a 7% reduction of Monusco personnel – from 19,815 to 18,316. This figure includes military personnel, military observers, police personnel and members of formed police units.

Scandals involving UN troops in recent years have included a DRC paedophile ring and prostitute trafficking in Kosovo and alleged sexual abuse cases by European troops against children in the conflict-ridden Central African Republic (CAR).

The head of an advocacy group that leaked a UN report revealing that a dozen French peacekeepers had been suspected of sexually abusing children in the CAR in 2015 accused the UN of attempting to "cover-up" its findings.

Read more: UN Peacekeeping: Allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse – a 20 year history of shame