LNC with The Washington Post
Investigators discovered this month that at least four United Nations peacekeepers in the Central African Republic allegedly paid young girls as little as US$0.50 in exchange for sex.
The case is the latest to plague the UN, whose employees in the Central African Republic have been accused of 22 other incidents of alleged sexual abuse or sexual exploitation in the past 14 months.
The UN has been grappling with so many sexual abuse allegations involving its peacekeepers that Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon recently called them “a cancer in our system”.
The latest allegations involve at least four peacekeepers who are accused of paying girls as young as 13 for sex at a camp for the internally displaced next to the international airport in Bangui, the capital.
UN officials said the peacekeepers were from Gabon, Morocco, Burundi and France.
The prostitution ring they allegedly used was run by boys and young men who offered up girls “for anywhere from 50 cents to three dollars”, according to one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The site of prostitution, known as M’Poko camp, is home to 20,000 people, mostly Christians. It is a vast agglomeration of white tents surrounding old, decaying airplanes, just yards from the airport runway.
Some officials say that there may be many more cases of exploitation by peacekeepers that have gone unreported. Because there is no regular UN presence in M’Poko, it has been difficult to gauge the scale of the problem.
Anthony Banbury, UN assistant secretary-general for field support, said UN troops plan to begin patrolling M’Poko more frequently and will attempt to dismantle the prostitution ring.
The accusations come in the wake of Ban’s efforts to implement a “zero-tolerance” policy for such offences.
“They are preying on the people they’ve come to protect,” said Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the top UN official in the country.
The abuse “undermines everything we stand for”, said Banbury.
As the UN maintains nine peacekeeping operations in Africa, employing over 100,000 people on the continent, the abuses threaten to erode the organisation’s legitimacy.
Other sex-crime cases have occurred in Mali, South Sudan, Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo in recent years.
Last month, the UN published a damning independent investigation that said poor enforcement of policies meant to deter and report abuse meant that:
“the credibility of the UN and peacekeeping operations are in jeopardy”.
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