|A girl sits on a bundle of firewood in the Abu Shouk camp for displaced people, near the city of El Fasher, capital of North Darfur. Many women and girls are harassed or sexually abused when they venture out to fetch wood or water.|
NEW YORK, 11 February 2005 – Dozens of babies are being born in Darfur to mothers raped during the ongoing conflict in western Sudan. A recent United Nations report into war crimes in the region has highlighted widespread attacks on women and girls, some as young as ten years old.
More than 2.5 million people have been affected by the two-year conflict in Darfur. Marauding Janjaweed militia groups have forced communities in Sudan to abandon their villages and flee to urban areas or camps in neighbouring Chad.
Sexual violence is used in war to humiliate and weaken communities. The UN report describes how in Kutum in March 2004, for example, 150 soldiers and janjaweed abducted and raped 16 girls. The legacy of such atrocities lives on when babies are born out of rape. There’s a fear amongst humanitarian aid workers that young mothers and their children could be ostracised as a result of what they’ve been through.
“What we know in Darfur, like many places in the world, often the women and the girls who are raped feel shame,” says UNICEF’s adviser on sexual violence, Pamela Shifman. “They experience stigma, discrimination as a result of the rape. So UNICEF is working to ensure that the stigma of the rape is attached to the perpetrator where it belongs and not to the women and girls who are the victims. And this extends to children who are born as a result of rape.”
Shifman says that the communities she talked with in Darfur insisted that they would not ostracise rape victims and the children born under these circumstances. However, the children may be closely monitored while growing up for any characteristics that resemble their violent fathers.
Shifman explains that one of the main concerns that women and girls in Darfur have raised is the constant threat of rape they face when they leave camp to collect firewood. “Darfur is largely a desert and women and girls are walking for miles and miles to collect enough firewood to feed themselves and their families.”
In an effort to minimise women and girls’ exposure to attack, UNICEF is working to develop locally produced, fuel-effective stoves which use much less firewood. These would cut down the time spent outside the relative safety of the camps.
Meanwhile, for those who have already been attacked, Shifman says, “UNICEF is working to ensure that both the mothers and the children are not discriminated against, have opportunities for education and have an opportunity to access health care,” She continues: “They must have an opportunity to be integrated into a larger society and not face discrimination as a result of being the victim of sexual violence.”
11 February 2005: Pamela Shifman, UNICEF adviser on sexual violence, discusses the dangers facing women and girls in Darfur.