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Women live in fear as assaults continue in camps

© Darfur/2004/Westerbeek
A child protection health worker at the Kalma camp

By Sacha Westerbeek

SOUTH DARFUR, 14 August 2004 – “It is still happening,” says Omar Abrahim. “Even here, in the camp in Kass, in South Darfur. It is awful and we feel so powerless and ashamed. We have no weapons to defend ourselves or to take back our women and, when we dare go outside the camp, they will shoot at us.”

Omar and his daughter Aisha, one of his 10 children, are sitting on a little stool in front of their shelter. The temporary dwelling is made out of twigs, sticks, and some pieces of plastic and cloth – just like the 40,000 shelters around them.

Girls and women face grave risks

Aisha plays nervously with her shawl when her father gives details about the dangers the women face when they venture out of the camp to cut grass and collect firewood. In most cases it is the women and girls that are used for these jobs since they have a greater chance to survive attacks. Boys are generally killed and the girls and women raped.

Even when the women go out in groups, they are in danger. It has been reported that a group of five young girls left the camp in search of firewood. The girls came back the next day – naked.

Aisha looks timidly up at her father. “I have never experienced something like this,” she says, speaking softly, “but I know it happens as some of my friends were taken far away to the dry wadi (river) and had to undress for groups of men.”

A friend of Aisha describes how her village was attacked five months ago. She was sleeping beside her parents when members of an armed militia came and forcibly took her away. Throughout the night she was sexually assaulted by four men. The next morning she could no longer walk; they put her naked onto a horse and sent her riding back to the village.

The dangers of silence

Talking about sexuality, let alone rape, is still a taboo in many families. Sometimes a man will chase away his wife when she has had sexual relations with another man – whether or not it was involuntary.

Besides social aspects, there is also the issue of health and hygiene. In some cases, girls are molested in such a way that they can no longer hold their urine. This stigmatizes them and could constitute another reason for their family or husband to abandon them.

© Darfur/2004/Westerbeek
2. Children in Kass at a UNICEF Safe Play Centre. The Centres provide an environment where children can discuss difficult issues, including sexual violence.

Safe Play Centres allow children to discuss difficult issues

Because so many children have gone through distress and have experienced trauma during the conflict in Darfur, UNICEF is supporting Safe Play Centres in four camps for people who have been forced to flee their homes, in South Darfur. In addition to opportunities for play, psychosocial support is provided to those in need.

The Safe Play Centres are a natural meeting point for children and young people. They are a good venue for informal education on a variety of topics, which is provided in age-appropriate and culturally sensitive ways.

Rape is also one of the issues addressed at the centres. It is very comforting for the girls to be able to discuss, in a safe environment, what they have lived through, as it can be hard for them to discuss this with their relatives.

Training police to deal with sensitive issues

Recognizing the scope of sexual abuse in Darfur, UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Welfare began a training course for police to prepare them to deal with the sexual abuse of children and women in Darfur. In July and August, almost 80 police officers (over a quarter of whom were women) were trained by police trainers from Jordan.

The Khartoum Police now plan to extend this training to another 1,000 Sudanese police officers.



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18 August 2004: Rape is a crime against humanity and far too often it is considered as inevitable in conflict situations. But even in times of conflict children must be protected from the brutal crime of sexual assault. View interview with UNICEF child protection official Pamela Shifman on this topic.

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