|© UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire/2011|
|Angeline talks with her daughter Rose, who was raped on Christmas day. UNICEF and partner OIS is supporting victims like Rose in Côte d’Ivoire.|
By Gisèle Langue Menye
BOUAKÉ, Côte d’Ivoire, 14 March 2011 – Rose (not her real name), 12, lives in Bouaké, the second largest city in Côte d’Ivoire. This tall and gracious middle-school student is carrying upon her shoulders the heavy weight of a family secret: she was raped on Christmas Day 2010.
Côte d’Ivoire is rife with fighting and conflict since last November’s disputed presidential election threw the country into political crisis. It has caused a spike in crimes, including many rapes, often committed by men carrying weapons.
Reported cases of rape have increased across the country, and most go unreported. Victims, such as Rose, will grieve for the rest of their lives.
There were 51 cases of sexual abuse registered in Bouaké in 2010 and out of those, 32 involved girls under the age of 18. People are slowly speaking up.
“Sexual abuse cases are now increasingly been denounced,” says Tuo Aby, 28, Gender Executive for Organization for Solidarity and Development in Africa (OIS), a non-governmental organization that is supporting Rose and her family. She says an average of five cases is reported every month now, compared to a monthly average of three cases between January and October 2010.
Rose’s mother, Angeline (not her real name), 37, has three other children. She vividly remembers the day Rose was raped. “I work in a restaurant and I sent my daughter to do an errand for me,” she says. “My son came to me running, barely able to breath, all shaken up. He was simply able to say: ‘Mummy, Rose has been raped.’ I asked him “Who?” and he repeated: ‘Rose.’ I collapsed down in tears. Back at the house, Rose was also crying and her dad was holding her in his arms.
Angeline contacted the OIS, who came the next day. She was grateful for their support. “They took care of everything because at that very moment, you have no idea what you should do,” she says. “You feel lost.”
UNICEF and partner OIS have been stepping up efforts to provide assistance. Victims require a medical follow-up to assess their health and prevent the transmission of HIV. Social assistants or psychologists provide psychological support and judicial help is provided.
|© UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire/2011|
|Organization for Solidarity and Development in Africa (OIS) members including Aby (centre right) support victimes of rape in Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire.|
The United Nations Population Fund and United Nations Development Programme also strive to provide income-generating activities for victims, who often have few resources.
For Laetitia Bazzi, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection in Côte d’Ivoire, the number of cases of sexual violence and abuse against children is unacceptably high. UNICEF strives to ensure that children are safe and protected, she says.
“The young girls who are raped have to live with the psychological trauma for the rest of their lives,” she says. “Sadly their perpetrators will get away without being ever brought to justice for the crime they committed."
Then there is the effect on the victim’s family. “For some parents, the importance of virginity is paramount, so much so that their world falls apart,” says Aby. “Actually, some victims do not dare talking about it, and they would go to confide to aunts, friends, or grandmothers. Others prefer for the follow up to be carried out outside their family house, in order to avoid stigmatization.”
‘Light of hope’
The ordeal has brought Rose’s family closer together. If the children have not returned home by early evening, their father becomes nervous. “I do speak more to my three daughters,” he says. “I give them advice on how to build up a great future through education. And, above all, they should cry for help if they feel themselves in danger.”
And Aby says with every passing day Rose is getting better. “Before, she was a sorrowful person who was suffering inside, like most of the victims,” she says. “Now, a light of hope can now be sighted inside her eyes.”
Rose hopes to become a French teacher, when the political crisis dissipates and her school finally reopens. Nevertheless, her ordeal continues to feel like a deep wound. “I did not tell my friends about what happened, she says. “But I give them advice, so that they will avoid being alone, even on the road.”