‘The active maintenance of truce between nations or communities by international military forces’– this is the official definition of peacekeeping by the United Nations. But over the years, these armed men have added some unwritten functions like impregnating young women, acquisition of sex slaves and promotion of child prostitution in the host country.
The United Nations is reported to be investigating a litany of “endemic” new allegations that peacekeepers from at least three countries sexually abused civilians in the Central African Republic, including more than 100 girls in one prefecture.
It is not the first deployment in which U.N. forces have been accused of sexual abuse. In Bosnia in the 1990s, peacekeepers were accused of soliciting sex from women who had been trafficked and virtually enslaved in local brothels. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the early 2000s, more than 150 allegations of abuse and exploitation were registered against peacekeepers, and U.N. investigators found that many of the alleged victims were orphans. U.N. missions in Kosovo, Haiti, Liberia and other places have also been tarnished by such allegations. In 2014, a group of Tanzanian peacekeepers were accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. U.N. troops in Haiti and Sudan have been accused of sexual abuse of children In 2015, a U.N. report interviewed over 200 Haitian women a third of whom were “minors” who told they were forced to have sex with U.N. soldiers in exchange of material aid.
The U.N. has been in the spotlight for years over allegations of sexual abuse by its peacekeepers, especially those based in African countries. The measures the U.N. is taking to stop this menaces is “technically” not visible. While the U.N. initially started investigating the abuses, it failed to ensure that the children were protected and did nothing to ensure accountability. The U.N. itself acknowledged this problem; U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called sexual abuse by peacekeepers “a cancer in our system”. A cancer? Is it a cancer because it is incurable or it is a cancer because it is only manageable?
There is a range of explanations for the rampant abuses, including the poor training and discipline of many battalions, which are dispatched to sites for year-long rotations.
U.N. bases in the Central African Republic are now plastered with posters that list the rules that troops should already know:
“Sex with anyone under the age of 18 is prohibited.”
“Exchanging money, goods or employment for sex is prohibited.”
“Zero tolerance for sexual exploitation.”
One does not learn how to fight war in the battle field itself; the peacekeepers should be trained and retrained before sending them to any country. In addition, the U.N. should be more accountable, and provide strict measures to monitor the activities of these peacekeepers. The U.N. should also ensure the prosecution of those found guilty of any sex offense but, so far, the U.N. has done little in tackling this menace.