by Plutonium Page
In January 2005, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released their 7th annual list of the "Top Ten Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories". The list includes the resurgence of the worldwide tuberculosis epidemic (which I wrote about here), as well as the devastating effects of the conflicts in northern Uganda, DR Congo, Colombia, Somalia, and Chechnya, on the people living there.
In their December 16, 2004 Operational Overview of their activities in DR Congo, they describe a "never ending health crisis", which includes sexual violence against women, presumably at the hands of militiamen. If a girl is raped, she is no longer considered suitable for marriage.
These girls often turn to prostitution. Some of them have become "one dollar U.N. girls".
The Washington Post has published interviews with a few of these girls.
You'll find excerpts below the fold.
The Washington Post article begins with Yvette's story:
She's known in the community as a "one-dollar U.N. girl." At night, she sleeps on the cracked pavement outside a storefront. In the mornings, she sashays through the dusty streets, clutching a frayed parasol against the blinding sun.
Yvette and her friends are also called kidogo usharatis, Swahili for small prostitutes. They loiter outside the camps of U.N. peacekeepers, hoping to sell their bodies for a mug of milk, a cold soda or -- best of all -- a single dollar.
"I'm sad about it. But I needed the dollars. I can't go farm because of the militias. Who will feed me?" asked Yvette. At 14, she has a round face with wide eyes beneath a cap of neatly shorn hair, and her hands rest on her hips in an older girl's pose.
When Yvette was 10, a militiaman raped her, leaving her without clothes, she recalled. She cried a lot, wrapped her body in rags and then got up. She sought counseling at a women's organization, where she was told that she had done nothing wrong but that the theft of her virginity made her worthless as a bride. She should understand, the counselors said, that now no man would marry her.
"From time to time, I still do it. I am obligated," Yvette said. She and the other teenage girls interviewed for this article agreed to be identified provided only their first names were used. "Sometimes it happens in U.N. cars, other times at the camp. But at least they paid us. I was worthless anyhow. My honor was lost."
The article goes on to mention that there are 150 cases of abuse being investigated by the U.N., and not all of them are in the Congo. Some are in Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as Kosovo and Bosnia in Europe.
The U.N. has begun to take action:
The United Nations is also investigating reports of rape or sexual assault in Congo, including one case in which a French logistics employee was found with hundreds of videotapes that showed him torturing and sexually abusing naked girls. Last week, U.N. officials announced they had fired one employee and suspended six others from among 17 civilian staff members being investigated in the Congo abuses.
Secretary General Kofi Annan on Sunday unveiled new rules for the United Nations that, in part, address the reports of sexual misconduct by its personnel.
Extreme poverty is one of the things that drives the girls to "obligation" or "survival" sex:
Five years ago, more than 10,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops came to Congo to help end a six-nation war that had left over 3 million people dead. Contingents from Morocco, South Africa, India, Nepal and Bangladesh erected camps that looked quite posh to the Congolese. They had shiny trailers and roomy tents, satellite dishes, and kitchens and bathrooms with electricity and running water -- amenities rarely seen in the impoverished bush.
To Congolese girls living in squalid camps or squatting in abandoned buildings, the peacekeepers were wealthy men they wanted to know.
Even though the war officially ended in 2003, life in Congo remains violent and precarious, especially in the volatile Ituri region where seven militia groups are still fighting. In Bunia, the regional capital, people grab at any opportunity to survive. Orphaned boys sleep in filthy gutters. A medical student peddles dried meat to pay his school fees. Girls and women beg foreign workers to let them perform any chore -- washing laundry, polishing shoes, hauling water or providing sex -- for a few coins.
The article ends with an interview with Yvette's friend Francine:
Meanwhile she met and became friends with Yvette, whose mother was sick with typhoid and had run out of food. Yvette, she said, told her about another way to earn money. After that, she began having sex with peacekeepers.
"There was no other choice," Francine said, as Yvette laughed uncomfortably beside her.
One recent evening, Francine recounted, a deal was negotiated and she went into the Moroccan camp. There, she said, she had sex with one man, but the situation got out of control. Five more lined up and began to take her by force, she said.
"I feel bad about what I did. I don't want to go through that again," Francine said quietly.
Never mind that being "taken by force" wasn't her fault. At least there is counseling available for the girls, which is described in the article.
Hopefully, this article will help move DR Congo's situation off Doctors Without Borders " "underreported humanitarian stories" list. Everyone needs to know about this.
The BBC website has a good Q & A section regarding the DR Congo conflict. The sidebar links are helpful as well.