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ECHO and UNICEF: Tackling sexual violence in Burundi

© UNICEF video
The mother of a rape victim listens to her daughter talk about her ordeal.

By Wairimu Gitahi

MUYINGA, Burundi, 6 June 2005 – Head bowed, a 13-year-old girl tearfully recounts one of the most horrifying moments of her short life. Her mother listens in shock.

“He came into my room with a machete and threatened to cut my head off if I cried ... then he raped me. After a while, I managed to run out of the house, but he followed me and told me not to cry and not to tell anybody, that these things happen,” explains the 13-year-old, who can’t be named to protect her identity.

The mother and daughter have come to a special centre in Muyinga Province for victims of sexual violence. It is one of four in Burundi, and this one is funded by ECHO, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department, with technical assistance from UNICEF. 

After explaining what had happened to her and being examined by a doctor, the girl is referred to a psychologist for counselling. She will also be tested for HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. Early intervention in this case resulted in the girl’s attacker being caught and jailed. He is now awaiting trial for raping a minor.

© UNICEF video
The centre for victims of sexual violence in Muyinga, one of four such centers funded by ECHO and supported by UNICEF in Burundi.

Sexual violence against children and women is a major problem in Burundi, which is dealing with the aftermath of more than 12 years of ethnic conflict. Since it opened six months ago, the centre in Muyinga has treated 95 girls and women, more than half of them under the age of 18. 

Run by a local non-governmental organisation, the Society for Women Against AIDS in Africa (SWAA), the clinic combines medical care with psychological, economic and legal support, as well as HIV counselling and testing. 

So far, only 10 survivors have requested support to initiate legal action. The centre aims to increase legal action against the perpetrators in order to fight the culture of impunity surrounding sexual violence. 

ECHO Burundi’s Yorgos Kapranis said sexual violence is a very delicate issue and a taboo subject in Burundi, but that the centre is helping an increasing number of survivors seek help.

© UNICEF video
A counselor at the ECHO funded and UNICEF supported centre for victims of sexual violence in Muyinga, Burundi.

UNICEF has been asked to extend this multi-sector approach to provincial hospitals, health centres and locally based organizations.

Adelaine Njorajozo, the clinic’s Coordinator, said “This centre began as an HIV/AIDS clinic, but we found there were increasing numbers of survivors of rape coming in for counselling. So we asked for help.”

With the support of international partners like ECHO and UNICEF, Burundi is trying to deal with the problem of human rights violations. As part of a nationwide campaign against sexual violence, police and court officials are receiving extra training, and one thousand social workers have been mobilised to raise public awareness in grassroots sessions across the country.

Dealing with sexual violence against the most vulnerable members of the community is a crucial step towards a safe and stable society; only then will Burundi’s past stop haunting its present.

Aditi Menon-Broker contributed to this story.




June 2005:
Dan Thomas reports on efforts by ECHO and UNICEF to curb violence against children and women in Burundi

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