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Protecting children from sexual violence in Comoros

© UNICEF Comoros/2006
This young girl, 16, was raped by a teacher in Anjouan, Comoros. She gave birth as a result of the crime, and the baby died soon after.

By Sarah Crowe

The UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children is a landmark effort to provide a detailed global picture of the nature, extent and causes of such violence and act to prevent it. The final report was presented to the General Assembly on 11 October. Here is the latest in a series of related stories.

ANJOUAN, Comoros, 12 October 2006 – Fatima Bacar Abdallah is a woman with a mission – to rid her community of violence against children.

The tropical Indian Ocean island of Anjouan, where Ms. Abdallah lives, is best known for its beauty, perfumes and spices. But she hears some deeply disturbing stories about life for children here in her work for Service d’Ecoute, a UNICEF-supported non-governmental organization that protects child rights.

Imams, judges, teachers, parents and children all know that Ms. Abdallah is the one who will listen. And she does a lot more than that – she acts. Earlier this year, for example, when she stumbled across the tragic story of some girls who had been raped by a teacher, she made sure it would not happen again on her watch.

The case was taken up to the authorities, and the teacher was taken before the magistrate. During an inspection at the crime scene, the rapist admitted all. He is behind bars now, but that wasn’t the end of the story. One of the girls, 16, was pregnant.

© UNICEF video
Fatima Bacar Abdallah (left) walks around the neighbourhoods of Anjouan to counsel children who fall victims to sexual violence.

Comfort and advice

Sitting outside the simple straw hut the girl shares with her extended family, Ms. Abdallah comforts her and gives her important advice about completing her education.

“We took her to hospital when she was ready to give birth,” says Ms. Abdallah. “She was very happy when she had the baby, but when the baby died just days after the birth, she was completely distraught. We are trying to help her with schooling now.”

Not far away, Ms. Abdallah visits a 12-year-old victim of another rape by a different teacher. Her mother keeps the doors of their home firmly locked during the interview to shield her daughter from idle street gossip.

All too often, violence against children occurs in the very places where they feel safe, such as homes and schools. It is often swept under the carpet, and statistics are hard to come by. In Comoros, Ms. Abdallah and her organization are trying to change that.

Bringing perpetrators to justice

Like a one-woman army, she identifies the perpetrators and sees that justice is done. If the police are lagging in an investigation, Ms. Abdallah and her agency will work to get the evidence they need.

“Service d’Ecoute has really made a big difference,” notes one of the prosecutors in Anjouan, Chaharmane Zoubert. “We can’t handle these cases without somebody on the ground like Fatima.”

There are no sacred cows for Ms. Abdallah. She keeps a respectful distance but makes sure that religious leaders take up the plight of children, too.

“It’s shocking. I personally speak out about this a lot,” says Imam Koussai Abdallah of the Grande Mosque in Anjouan, referring to crimes against children. “I ask what the government is doing about this. People who commit such acts don’t have a heart! How can they dare to do such a thing, to violate a young girl, a girl just like your own daughter? That’s just not human.

“We pray for those perpetrators to have a soul,” he adds.




12 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe reports on efforts to protect children from sexual violence in Comoros.
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