U.N. Peacekeepers Coerced Haitians As Young As 11 Into Bearing Their Children, Then Abandoned The Mothers
A new report exposed the unsettling phenomenon of hundreds of United Nations peacekeepers, sent to provide aid to Haiti, fathering children with locals and abandoning them. The report published by The Conversation found that 265 of the 2,500 Haitians surveyed provided accounts of U.N. peacekeepers fathering children.
MINUSTAH is the 13-year stabilization mission in Haiti, set forth by the United Nations following the exile of President Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Haiti has continued to struggle with natural disasters and disease outbreaks (often brought by U.N. peacekeepers themselves). MINUSTAH was intended to stabilize the region. Instead, The Conversation uncovered a chilling pattern of exploitation and sexual misconduct.
U.N. peacekeepers created a culture of coercion.
Some Haitian victims were children as young as 11 — forced into sex, impregnated, then abandoned to raise children in extreme poverty. Others surveyed alluded to sexual violence, but most often women’s conditions made them willing participants out of survival. U.N. peacekeepers would exchange “small amounts” of food and money for sex.
“All day, I heard women who are complaining about the sexual violence that MINUSTAH did to them. And they had given them AIDS through sexual violence. There are also some of them who are pregnant,” a participant said.
What is astounding about the research is that the survey, led by Professor Sabine Lee of the University of Birmingham and Susan Bartels a clinician-scientist at Queen’s University in Ontario, was not intended to be about sexual assault or relations at all. The pattern was so common, the Haitian locals would bring it up of their own volition, according to the Washington Post.
“They come, they sleep with the women, they take their pleasures with them, they leave children in their hands, give them 500 gourdes,” one man told the researchers.
The abandonment of children fathered with Haitian women was rampant.
“I see a series of females 12 and 13 years old here. MINUSTAH impregnated and left them in misery with babies in their hands. The person has already had to manage a stressful, miserable life,” a woman from Cité Soleil said.
Many of the people interviewed suggested that once it was discovered that the men had impregnated a person, they were moved to a different station or repatriated in their home countries. These children were left with young mothers who often can’t even afford to send them to school. In some cases, women would be forced into sex work to support their babies.
“He left her in misery because when he used to have sex with her it was for little money, now his term reaches its end, he goes and leaves her in misery, and then now she has to redo the same process so she can provide meals to her child, can’t you understand,” a Port-au-Prince man said.
The U.N. responds to the allegations in the report.
The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations said it would take the claims in the report seriously.
“We have unfortunately seen cases involving MINUSTAH peacekeepers over the past years, although allegations have been generally declining since 2013,” the statement said. “Our approach puts the rights and dignity of victims at the forefront of its efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse.”
The Washington Post notes that the U.N. has received 116 sexual misconduct allegations since 2007 regarding Haitian peacekeepers. On record, 29 peacekeepers have been implicated in fathering 32 children with 26 women. Lee and Bartels feel that the nature of sending foreigners with more social and economic capital into regions with extreme poverty is a recipe for exploitation.
“In many cases, the power differential between foreign peacekeepers and local populations allows foreigners, knowingly or unknowingly, to exploit local women and girls,” Lee and Bartels wrote. “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.”
The researchers and advocates are hoping the revelations in the study lead to justice for Haitian women who simply cannot afford to take legal action, if they wanted to seek out child support, against foreign peacekeepers who are citizens of entirely different nations.
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