The Independant reports that UN troops have been buying sex from teenage refugees in the Congo – some as young as 13. The girls, of course, have no real choice – they’re facing starvation, and they often have children of their own to feed as well. The soldiers taking advantage of their desparation are the scum of the earth.
The Independent has found that mothers as young as 13 – the victims of multiple rape by militiamen – can only secure enough food to survive in the sprawling refugee camp by routinely sleeping with UN peace-keepers.
Testimony from girls and aid workers in the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in Bunia, in the north-east corner of Congo, claims that every night teenage girls crawl through a wire fence to an adjoining UN compound to sell their bodies to Moroccan and Uruguayan soldiers.
The trade, which according to one victim results in a banana or a cake to feed to her infant son, is taking place despite a pledge by the UN to adopt a “zero tolerance” attitude to cases of sexual misconduct by those representing the organisation.
The Independant has two articles up – one (quoted from above) brief, one longer and with more quotes from the abused girls. The horrifying thing is not just the actions of the UN troops, but how every aspect of the situation – from the misogynistic beliefs of her own culture, to the lack of sufficient aid from international helpers – has conspired to give these girls virtually no choice.
“I came to this camp nearly six months ago, when the fighting got bad in our village,” she explains, quietly. “The soldiers, different ones, were coming every night and we didn’t know what was going on, we were all scared. Every night the soldiers would come to our hut and make my sisters and I do it with them. We had no choice. If we said no, then they would hurt us. Sometimes they put their guns against my chest and sometimes between my legs. I was really scared.” Scared enough to leave the village where she had been born and begin the long walk through the jungle of Ituri province to the IDP camp. She knew before she left that she was pregnant, her child’s father one of the anonymous band of soldiers. “I had Joseph in the forest,” she says. “My father cannot help me any more – he is ashamed of me because I had this baby when I am not married. He has my brothers and sisters to look after.”
Faela expected to be safe in the camp. She believed life would be hard, but at least there would be no more late-night visits, no more men with guns. She felt that she would be fed, clothed and protected. Instead, she slowly discovered, as people refused her food, turned away from her, and talked of her “shame”, that she was a pariah.
“It is hard in the camp for the girls like me with little babies and no husbands,” she says. “We have no men to look after us. We have been dirtied by the soldiers who came to our villages. No one will now take us as their wives and it is hard to get food in the camp for us.”
Faced with starvation, and worried for her son, Faela, along with other girls in a similar predicament, turned to the only salvation they felt that they had – the Uruguayan and Moroccan Monuc soldiers stationed directly across from the camp, barely 20 metres away, with only barbed wire separating the two. “It is easy for us to get to the UN soldiers,” she explains. “We climb through the fence when it is dark, sometimes once a night, sometimes more.”
The article also discusses how no one seems willing to discipline the soldiers. And, of course, just stopping the soldiers – without doing anything about the reasons teenage girls are so desparate for food that they’ll trade sex for fruit – is no solution. More.
It seems ridiculous to call for more foreign aid – especially remembering the similar scandal that took place a couple of years ago – but what else can be done? The clear way to help these girls is to provide them and their children with access to enough food and security so that they don’t need to trade sex for food. Which means more foreign aid. Which may mean more exploitative foreign aid workers. Aaargh.
What these girls really need is a situation where they have power of their own, rather than being dependant on the power of men around them – fathers, brothers, local soldiers, UN soldiers, or aid workers. But I can’t imagine any way to bring that about, in the short term.