A prominent Canadian aid worker and former United Nations official has been jailed in Nepal for sexually abusing children in a landmark case that has shaken up the humanitarian community.

Peter John Dalglish, 62, from Ontario, had helped children in poor countries for years with the organization he co-founded, Street Kids International, which ended up becoming part of the charity Save the Children.

Convicted last month, on Monday he was jailed for nine years for abusing a 12-year-old boy and seven years for abusing a 14-year-old boy. He has also been told to pay compensation of 500,000 Nepalese rupees ($4,500) to each of his victims.

A court official, Thakur Trital, told Agence France-Presse that the judge is yet to decide whether he should serve a total of 16 years in jail or be released after nine years, but suggested that in most cases of a similar nature, sentences get overlapped.

Peter Dalglish the founder of Street Kids International, was convicted on sexually abusing two boys in Nepal.Peter Dalglish

International activists have said the ruling was just one step in addressing accusations of sexual abuse against children in Nepal, where nongovernmental organizations operate with limited oversight.

Lori Handrahan, a veteran international aid worker and author told the New York Times: "Peter Dalglish's sentencing is an alarm bell for the humanitarian community," and urged a push "to tackle the pervasive problem of predators in our humanitarian workplace."

Gauri Pradhan, a former member of Nepal's National Human Rights Commission, said according to the paper: "The ruling has given a clear message to child abusers that Nepal is not a safe haven for them."

He had been arrested in the small Nepali village of Kartike, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, where he helped pay for school supplies and employed local people to maintain his house.

Dalglish, who was awarded the Order of Canada in 2016, denied the charges. His lawyer could not be reached for comment. It is not known whether he would appeal the ruling.

He held key positions in U.N. agencies, including head of U.N.-Habitat in Afghanistan in 2015. In Nepal, he was also an adviser to the International Labour Organization in the early 2000s.

There has been a push for humanitarian organizations to investigate claims of abuse, with Oxfam admitting last year that four workers had been fired in 2011 after it discovered senior officials had hired prostitutes in Haiti.

A British government report found that sexual abuse of vulnerable women and girls by international aid workers was "endemic," CNN reported.