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Rape victims, ‘peacekeeper babies’ suffer amid growing UN sex abuse scandal

Annie, 29, holds her 2-month-old son, who she says was fathered by a peacekeeper from Gabon. Jane Hahn/ The Washington Post

By Kevin Sieff | The Washington Post

BANGUI — The neighborhood is a patchwork of low-slung buildings scorched and looted at the height of the civil war, a place where the United Nations was supposed to come to the rescue. But in a number of homes, women and girls are raising babies they say are the children of U.N. troops who abused or exploited them.

“Peacekeeper babies,” the United Nations calls such infants.

“A horrible thing,” says an elfin 14-year-old girl, who describes how a Burundian soldier dragged her into his barracks and raped her, leaving her pregnant with the baby boy she now cradles uncomfortably.

The allegations come amid one of the biggest scandals to plague the United Nations in years. Since the U.N. peacekeeping mission here began in 2014, its employees have been formally accused of sexually abusing or exploiting 42 local civilians, most of them underage girls.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called sexual abuse by peacekeepers “a cancer in our system.” In August, the top U.N. official here was fired for failing to take enough action on abuse cases. Nearly 1,000 troops whose units have been tied to abuses have been expelled, or will be soon. Among them is the entire contingent from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

But the victims appear to be more numerous than the United Nations has acknowledged so far. In a corner of the capital city known as Castors, near the U.N. headquarters in the country, The Washington Post interviewed seven women and girls who described contact with peacekeepers that violated U.N. regulations against sexual exploitation and abuse. Five of them said they exchanged sex for food or money – sometimes as little as $4 – while their country was rocked by civil war and families were going hungry. Two had reported their cases to the United Nations.

Five of the seven interviewed by The Post said they had borne the children of their abusers. The 14-year-old mother said she was raped, but the United Nations recorded her case as involving “transactional” sex, in which acts are exchanged for money or food.

“Sometimes when I’m alone with my baby, I think about killing him,” the teen said, holding the little boy. “He reminds me of the man who raped me.”

The Washington Post does not usually identify minors who are victims of sexual abuse or exploitation.

The accounts by the women and girls could not be independently verified. But their stories echoed other accounts of abuse in the Central African Republic collected by independent groups and the United Nations.

The U.N. system responsible for handling and prosecuting such cases has been widely criticized as dysfunctional, even after scandals involving peacekeepers in other parts of the world. Only one criminal charge has been filed in relation to any of the 42 cases of sexual abuse or exploitation that have been officially registered in the Central African Republic, according to U.N. officials.

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