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UNICEF moves to protect children from sexual violence

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DARFUR/NEW YORK, 26 July 2004 – Fifteen-year-old Amna Mohammed’s story is disturbingly commonplace in Darfur and Chad: “The Janjaweed took all the property from our village and they burnt it and the other villages nearby,” she says, speaking quietly. “Many children were taken away and a lot of girls were raped.”

More than 1.2 million Darfurians are vulnerable, surviving with difficulty in the dry, hostile landscape of Darfur and Eastern Chad. They have been forced to flee their homes after a campaign to drive them from their villages through terror and violence. But for Darfur’s women and children there is a second dimension to this ordeal. As they swept across Darfur, militia groups raped and sexually assaulted large numbers of women and girls.  The assaults have continued around the camps where many of Darfur’s displaced are now living, as women have attempted to leave to collect water and firewood.

“Rape, sexual violence, fear of violence, are all pervasive in the Darfur area, certainly among the women and girls that I talked to. There’s a great deal of fear,” says UNICEF’s Executive Director Carol Bellamy.

Ms. Bellamy recently visited Darfur where she heard countless testimonies from children and women. Their stories are both consistent and shocking, almost always including rape and sexual violence, villages burned, parents killed and entire communities forced to flee their homes.

“Too many people assume that rape and sexual violence is inevitable in war. But frankly, from UNICEF’s perspective, it is something that is growing,” Ms. Bellamy says.  “It’s growing because increasingly the victims in war today are civilians, largely women and children.  So the tactics being used in conflict are tactics of the worst kind of abuse, the worst kind of violence and focused very often on the most vulnerable.  So we are seeing more sexual violence, more rape.  And it has to stop.”

The rape of women and children has a devastating impact on individuals and entire communities.  For many girls and women, sexual violence is the culmination of a series of assaults.  They have often lost all the things that protect them: Family members have been killed before their eyes with complete impunity, siblings and mothers raped and entire families forced to flee their homes.

One step towards protecting children against sexual violence is to train police officers who are assigned to investigate cases of child rape. The aim is to sensitize law enforcement officials as they interview children who have endured sexual violence. Working with the Sudanese Government, UNICEF has helped train the first group of officers in Khartoum.  Jordanian police trainers, who have developed expertise in this sensitive work at Amman’s Family Protection Department, carried out the instruction. In the next months, all police personnel in Darfur will be trained.

“The training of police officers is a first step in the right direction, because only well-trained personnel should interview children who have been raped or sexually abused,” said Ms. Bellamy.  “While insecurity is still rampant in Darfur, the Government of Sudan has a responsibility to protect its women and girls from the extraordinary brutality they have endured for far too long.”


 

 

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Darfur’s women and children are exposed to widespread sexual violence.  UNICEF's Francis Mead reports.

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