Monday, January 18, 2016
U.N. "Peacekeepers" stationed in the Central African Republic have been exposed for paying for sex with girls. The prices paid ranged from 50 cents to $3.00. Not surprisingly, the girls are part of a prostitution ring organized by boys and young men pimps, in this instance from M'poko, a camp for the internally displaced. The offending soldiers were from Gabon, Morocco, Burundi and France.
The Washington post reported the most recent news, but the UN learned of the behavior last summer. While the headlines typically read that U.N. Peacekeepers paid young, underage girls for sex, perhaps a better headline would be that UN Peacekeepers supported a local prostitution ring in the sexual abuse of young girls. I don't think that anyone will argue that the thirteen year old girls voluntarily participated as sex workers as a lifestyle choice. Their circumstances of being displaced, in addition to their sex and age, made them particularly vulnerable. Also last summer, Amnesty International reported the rape of a 12 year old girl by a U.N. Peacekeeper. After initially denying reports of sexual exploitation, the UN is now investigating.
The story of the Peacekeeper exploitation was reported by Human Rights Watch in August. As Sarah Taylor reported, the UN at last may be shifting the way it views sexual abuse and exploitation, which has been reported in many countries in addition to CAR. Rather than consider these actions as conduct offenses, the UN, according to a report issued by the Secretary General, is encouraged to view this abuse as conflict-related sexual violence. In September, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced several initiatives including banning anyone with a history of sexual violence from serving with the UN.
The UN and other military authorities avoid, however, the central issue of why sexual abuse and exploitation is not the first issue addressed whenever troops are deployed. Crimes of sexual abuse against women and children is a documented reality around the world, but particularly for areas of conflict. Before the UN, or any individual country, sends troops to protect elections or assist refugees, the first mission might be to safeguard the residents from abuse, particularly sexual violence. Other missions are secondary.