Children make up the majority of victims of sexual violence in many conflict and post-conflict zones, Save the Children has said, in a new report released ahead of a crucial G8 meeting in London aimed at tackling the issue.
In its new report Unspeakable Crimes Against Children, the charity has collated figures and testimonies from a range of countries affected by conflict over the past decade, including Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Colombia.
Reliable data on the issue is limited, as much sexual abuse goes unreported, but taken together, the figures collated in the report indicate that children frequently make up the majority of sexual abuse victims in war and its aftermath.
For example, a study in Liberia – still recovering from a vicious civil war that ended a decade ago – found that more than 80% of victims of gender-based violence in 2011-12 were younger than 17. Almost all of them were raped.
Among testimonies gathered from victims and witnesses for the report, Save the Children heard of children being killed after being raped, both girls and boys kidnapped and abused by armed forces and groups, and children as young as two being attacked by opportunistic sexual predators, including teachers, religious leaders, peacekeepers, and family members.
Despite this, programmes to prevent children falling victim to sexual violence and help them recover from attacks remain chronically underfunded. The most recent complete global figures show that less than a quarter of the budget needed to protect children and women in emergencies was available, the charity said.
Justin Forsyth, Save the Children’s Chief Executive said: “It is shocking that in conflict zones around the world, children 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.
“Even if they recover from the physical effects of their experiences, many victims carry the psychological scars of their ordeal for the rest of their lives, and are often cast out from society. Despite all this, there are huge gaps in funding for the work needed to protect children from these atrocious crimes and to respond to their needs.”
Testimonies of witnesses and victims of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings around the world reveal the devastating impact such incidents have on children’s lives:
- “Rebels were raping women, they took two girls: one was 13 and the other was 14. Then they took a 15-year-old. There were 15 or 16 [men]. The one who was 13 died because they beat her so badly.” Barakissa, aged 29, describing the abduction and rape of young girls in Mali, 2012
- “I still remember the day when I was raped the first time. I was raped three times that night. I wanted to escape from them but didn’t get a chance.” Aditya, remembering the 3 years she spent (from the age of 13) captive of the Maoist militias in Nepal
- “It was horrible. My daughter got sick because she had been injured by what the man had done when he molested her.” Maria, recounting the medical effects after the rape of her five–year-old daughter Diana in Colombia.
During its leadership of the G8, the UK government has vowed to prioritise the issue of sexual violence in conflict. Save the Children is calling on G8 leaders to take the following concrete actions to help children who are affected:
- Fund child protection in emergencies to make sure that vulnerable children are kept safe and given help to recover from their experiences.
- Ensure that programmes aimed at dealing with sexual violence in conflict zones are focussed on children, who often make up the majority of survivors.
- End impunity for sexual violence against children, making sure that those responsible are brought to account.
- Ensure that the UN has the resources and mandate to put measures in place to effectively protect children in conflicts.
For more information contact the Save the Children press office on 0207 012 6400 or out of hours 07831 650 409