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Most victims of sexual violence in conflict are children - report

A Save the Children report, Unspeakable Crimes Against Children, collates figures and testimonies from a range of countries affected by violence over the last 10 years.

A little girl plays with a pink balloon in the hallway of an abandoned government building that is home to hundreds of squatters, in Monrovia, Liberia
A little girl plays with a pink balloon in the hallway of an abandoned government building that is home to hundreds of squatters, in Monrovia, Liberia
Image: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

THE MAJORITY OF victims of sexual violence in many of the world’s conflict and post-conflict zones are children, a new report says.

The report, Unspeakable Crimes Against Children, is published by Save the Children. It collates figures and testimonies from a number of countries affected by conflict over the past decade, including Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Colombia.

The report is published ahead of a G8 meeting in London aimed at tackling the issue.

Victims

Save the Children says that reliable data on the issue is “limited” but that the figures collated in the report indicate that children frequently make up the majority of sexual abuse victims in war and its aftermath.

A study found that in Liberia, more than 80 per cent of gender-based violence victims in 2011-12 were younger than 17, and almost all of them were raped. Despite the fact that Save the Children heard of children being kidnapped and abused by armed forces, children as young as two being attacked, and others being killed, it says programmes to prevent such things happening, or helping children recover, are “chronically underfunded”.

Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children, said:

It is shocking that in conflict zones around the world, children – especially young girls – are being raped and abused at such an appalling rate. Sexual violence is one of the hidden horrors of war and the damage it wreaks ruins lives.

The organisation is calling on G8 leaders to take a number of actions to help children who are affected by sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict zones.

Experiences

The report contains shocking stories from children affected by sexual violence in their home countries, and in refugee camps. Sexual violence may be committed by armed groups, gangs, governmental forces, family or community members, or even peacekeepers and humanitarian staff.

In countries where women and girls are already heavily discriminated against, young girls face the greatest threat. They are particularly exposed to high levels of rape, but also early or forced marriage and unintended pregnancy. Although less apparent, sexual violence against boys is also common. Both girls and boys are often reluctant to report the crime, because of the social stigma and fear of retribution.

Children may be recruited or used by armed forces and groups for sexual purposes, or made act as ‘wives’ to individual fighters.

The report states that while men are likely to represent the majority of perpetrators of sexual violence and exploitation against children, “women are also responsible, particularly in relation to the control or exploitation of children engaged in transactional sex as a result of their economic and family situations”.

Madeleine, 16, Democratic Republic of Congo:

A soldier took my sister away. Another soldier then took me  and raped me. I was thinking, ‘Will I ever be able to go home again? Maybe I’ll get pregnant. If I do – what will happen? What will I do?’ “After that they took me back to my sister and let us go. I was very upset and in a lot of pain.

Angie, 23, Colombia:

The man who raped me [at age 18] was the husband of my brother’s sister… He was a man who was related to the paramilitary group or guerrillas – I’m not sure which… After he raped me, I felt awful, I felt sad, I cried and cried. I was pregnant

Female refugee, Somalia :

Sexual violence/rape is prevalent in our camp, especially as women and girls go to collect firewood, and we are always risking our lives as our children would starve if we didn’t put our lives at stake.

Male refugee (64), Somalia:

It is very important for a girl to get married soon, as she will be safe from any risks and abuses in the community. Furthermore, only few girls can control themselves and many would engage in unnecessary sexual behaviours that are against the culture and the religion of the society.

The full report can be read at this link (PDF).

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