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  • U.N. peacekeepers walk along a street during a patrol with Haitian national police officers and members of UNPOL (United Nations Police) in the neighborhood of Cite Soleil, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 3, 2017.

    U.N. peacekeepers walk along a street during a patrol with Haitian national police officers and members of UNPOL (United Nations Police) in the neighborhood of Cite Soleil, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 3, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 18 December 2019
Opinion

"Girls as young as 11 were sexually abused and impregnated by peacekeepers and then ‘left in misery’ to raise their children alone," the report shows. 

Hundreds of men engaged in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah) conceived hundreds of children during their deployment in the Caribbean island and abandoned the young mothers, a new report published Tuesday in the Conversation revealed.

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One-in-Three Women Worldwide Experience Physical, Sexual Abuse

The research’s findings show that out of 2,500 Haitians interviewed, not less than 265 people who live in communities neighboring the U.N.’s 10 bases in the island, told stories involving babies fathered and abandoned by U.N. staff.

“The narratives reveal how girls as young as 11 were sexually abused and impregnated by peacekeepers and then, as one man put it, ‘left in misery’ to raise their children alone, often because the fathers are repatriated once the pregnancy becomes known,” the report says.

“In many cases, the power differential between foreign peacekeepers and local populations allows foreigners, knowingly or unknowingly, to exploit local women and girls. The prevalence of transactional sex in our data underscores the significance of the structural imbalances – peacekeepers have access to some of the resources that are desired or needed by the local population, and so they are in a strong position to exchange those for sex.”

Marie was 14 years old when she was impregnated by a Brazilian blue helmet who returned to his country as soon as he discovered the pregnancy. The teenager was left alone to deal with the pregnancy and ultimately forced to leave her home and go to a relative’s house. 

“Her child is now four, and Marie has yet to receive any support from the Brazilian military, an NGO, the U.N. or the Haitian state. Marie provides what she can for her son but she cannot afford to send him to school,” the report reads, noting that she earns 26 cents per hour.

The Minustah, which operated in Haiti from 2004 to 2017, was originally launched to help Haitian institutions against organized crime and political instability. Its goal was expanded after the 2010 earthquake and 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, which killed hundreds and caused billions of dollars in damages.

The academics who conducted the research found that the peacekeeping operation “is one of the most controversial U.N. missions ever.” They reported “a shocking number of uniformed and non-uniformed U.N. peacekeepers,” who engaged in sexual exploitation in which either money or food was given to the women and girls. 

Other cases reported included violent sexual encounters between Haitian women and girls and peacekeepers.

“All day, I heard women who are complaining about the sexual violence that MINUSTAH did to them,” a community member from Cite Soleil told researchers. “And they had given them AIDS through sexual violence. There are also some of them who are pregnant.”

Regarding these cases of sexual violence, the report explains they represent a “minority of reported sexual encounters,” and that the victims included not only women and girls, but also men and boys.

A spokesperson for U.N. Peacekeeping told the New York Times in a statement that while global missions “are making steady progress” to prevent abuses, “much remains to be done.”

“All categories of personnel are vetted against a prior history of misconduct while serving in the United Nations. Perpetrators are barred from future recruitment with us,” reads the statement adding that they "have removed or repatriated both individuals and units where we deemed it appropriate and will continue to do so."

However, the study warns that "the practice of repatriating any U.N. personnel implicated in sexual exploitation or abuse must stop as it has a double-negative consequence. First, it removes the alleged offender from any effective prosecution in the cases of alleged wrongdoing, and second, it removes them from any jurisdiction within which the victim/child/mother of a child would have any chance of securing the appropriate financial support for the child."

The research comes nearly two years after it was revealed that Oxfam, a United Kingdom charity, had worked to cover up the sexual exploitation of Haitian people by the agency’s employees.

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