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It’s time to stop sexual violence against children

By Véronique Aubert, Senior Conflict & Humanitarian Policy and Research Adviser

This little girl was raped aged 5 by a man from an area inhabited by paramilitaries

Over the past 14 years, I have spent a great deal of time in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and from the very beginning have loved the country  and most importantly, its people. Last month I travelled back to Eastern DRC with Save the Children, and while meeting old friends and human rights defenders, once again heard enraging stories of children whose lives, already devastated by war, have been made still harder by the experience of sexual violence.

These crimes have a catastrophic impact on a child’s life. They must be stopped. One way to prevent them is to strengthen national justice systems, reporting and court proceedings, so that the specific needs of children are taken into account.


Unspeakable Crimes:  Changing the Law

Yesterday, Save the Children released a Policy Brief, Unspeakable Crimes:  Changing the Law  that highlights specific reforms crucial to protecting children who have survived crimes of sexual violence and empowering them to seek redress and justice.  This release came on the day the UK Foreign Secretary and the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict were at the United National General Assembly, calling on states to raise international awareness of the ongoing use of sexual violence in conflict.

This is part of the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, which is very much needed. Too often, for the thousands of children who survive these horrible crimes in conflict zones, there is little or no appropriate redress and this deepens their suffering immeasurably.


Limited capacity to prosecute

Over the last 20 years, international criminal courts and tribunals have helped to develop and clarify international criminal law in the field of sexual violence in conflict. Nonetheless, international justice is still out of reach for many survivors and there is limited capacity to prosecute offenders. Meanwhile discriminatory laws and policies at a national level mean that in many cultures, discrimination against women and children is tolerated – and this can often include gender-based violence.

There is no question that reporting sexual crimes and providing evidence can be extremely traumatising and intimidating for child survivors. This is probably one of the reasons why levels of reporting and prosecuting for crimes against children, both girls and boys, tend to be so low. Far too often, information and advice on the legal procedures are not available and the conduct of the proceedings does not take into account the literacy levels or language – or his or her maturity.

It is time to act. I really hope that one day, I will visit the DRC and hear only stories of children going to school, playing with their friends and growing up without the threat of sexual violence.

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