Search this page for:
UN troops buy sex from teenage refugees in Congo camp

By Cahal Milmo
25 May 2004

Teenage rape victims fleeing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo are being sexually exploited by the United Nations peace-keeping troops sent to stop their suffering.

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.

One girl, Faela, 13, whose son, Joseph, is not yet six months old, has described how the social stigma of her fatherless child, the result of repeated rape by militiamen in her village, meanwhile she is treated like a pariah in the chaotic and violent Bunia camp, which is home to 15,000 people.

She said: "It is hard in the camp for the girls like me with little babies and no husbands. We have no men to look after us. We have been dirtied by the soldiers who came to our villages. No one will take us as their wives and it is hard to get food in the camp for us."

She added: "It is easy for us to get to the UN soldiers. We climb through the fence when it is dark, sometimes once a night, sometimes more."

During a five-day period, The Independent spoke to more than 30 girls, half of whom said they made the 20-metre journey from the camp to gaps in the wire fences of the compound run by Monuc, the UN mission in Congo.

One worker, employed by Atlas, the aid group that manages the camp, confirmed that staff were aware of the trade in sex but were too frightened to tackle it.

He said: "There is nothing to stop them and the girls need food. It is best to keep quiet, though. I am frightened that if I say something I may lose my job and I have children of my own to feed."

The UN has announced its own inquiry into the allegations, warning that it will apply "all available sanctions" against those responsible. But doubts remain about the effectiveness of the investigation and the ability of the UN to bring those responsible to justice.

Dominique McAdams, the head of the UN in Bunia, said she believed that there was sexual violence in the camp, but said she had yet to see any evidence.