Peacekeepers and other personnel employed by the United Nations (U.N.) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 2018 have allegedly impregnated at least 60 different local girls and women during their times of service in the troubled country, with the youngest accuser alleging she was just ten years old when she was impregnated by a U.N. staff member, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported on Monday, citing an original study by the University of Birmingham published by the media outlet The Conversation last week.
A team of researchers funded by Britain’s University of Birmingham and the Canadian government published a study on August 9 “based on 2,858 interviews with Congolese community members, including 60 in-depth interviews with victims of sexual misconduct who conceived children with peacekeepers, and 35 interviews with children who were born as a result.”
A 16-year-old Congolese girl alleged to the researchers during her interview that she was a child aged ten years old when she became pregnant by a U.N. peacekeeper.
“I was very young – just ten years old. I realised later on that I was sold out by my aunt. The men were buying beer in the pub to share it with me. When I was drunk, they profited from unwanted sexual acts. Every morning my aunt gave me milk, bread, food and water to recover from all the lost energy,” the unnamed teenage mother stated.
“One in every two mothers were under the age of 18 when they conceived [children by U.N. staff],” according to the study’s authors.
The team’s research spanned 2018 to early August 2022 and “implicates UN personnel from 12 countries, the majority of whom were Tanzanian and South African. Mothers said these absent fathers held roles ranging from soldiers, officers and pilots to drivers, cooks, doctors and photographers.”
Interview excerpts from the study published by The Conversation revealed that one Congolese woman accused a U.N. staff member from Bangladesh (via South Africa) of impregnating her, while another Congolese woman accused a U.N. employee from the West African nation of Benin of impregnating her.
While some of the female Congolese accusers acknowledged that their sexual encounters with U.N. staff members were consensual, others described them as having occurred against their will.
“We heard a number of accounts of girls and women having been raped by one or more peacekeepers, sometimes while begging for humanitarian assistance. One participant […] said she had been gang-raped by UN peacekeeper personnel at the age of 13,” according to the study.
The woman who claimed that she had been gang-raped by U.N. staff said she subsequently became pregnant as a result of the rape but was unable to identify which one of her alleged rapists had fathered the child.
The research team grimly observed that the presence of U.N. staff in DRC correlated with increased rates of sex trafficking in the areas of deployment, including the particularly abhorrent phenomenon of child prostitution involving girls as young as six years old, known colloquially as “kidigo usharatis,” or “little prostitutes,” in Congolese.
The study’s authors wrote:
The presence of [U.N.] peacekeepers [in the DRC] has repeatedly been associated with a rapid increase in sex trafficking and brothels near military bases, child prostitution, the exchange of sex for goods or food, the creation and distribution of pornographic films, growing harassment and catcalling in the streets, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.
The U.N.’s public database of misconduct allegations listed “426 allegations of sexual misconduct that implicate peacekeepers in fathering children” dating back to 2007 as of August 4, 2022, according to the researchers. Just 44 of the allegations have been substantiated since 2007, while 302 allegations remained “pending” as of early August.
The U.N. has maintained a peacekeeping mission in the DRC since 1999. The U.N.’s international public health agency, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), published a report produced by a W.H.O.-appointed independent commission in September 2021 revealing widespread sexual abuse of locals by at least 21 W.H.O. employees in the DRC from August 2018 to June 2020. The W.H.O. staff perpetrated the sexual abuse while in eastern DRC to help the local population battle an Ebola outbreak.