‘Child sexual abuse widespread in camps’

At least half the estimated 1.4 million children displaced by conflicts in Africa's volatile Great Lakes region have experienced some form of sexual abuse in camps that shelter them, according to a report by the international charity, World Vision.

"The forms of abuse experienced include rape, attempted rape and threat of rape," the report, released on Monday, stated. "Children are compelled to have sex in exchange for money to go to hospital, to buy food, even sometimes for their families," stated the report, entitled ‘The future in our hands: Children displaced by conflicts in Africa's Great Lakes region’.

The report, which was prepared with data collected from refugee and internally displaced persons camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Tanzania, northern Uganda and Rwanda, noted that poverty made the children vulnerable to abuse.

''High vulnerability of girls to sexual abuse and exploitation has roots in the social-cultural relations between males and females''

Traditional practices such as early marriage were common as parents encouraged their children to get married in exchange for bride price.

"The high vulnerability of girls to sexual abuse and exploitation has roots in the social-cultural relations between males and females," the report said.

In some communities, the study found that irrational beliefs, such as that having sex with a virgin could cure AIDS, were to blame for the sexual violation of children.

World Vision Regional Coordinator Valarie Kamatsiko said the situation would deteriorate if authorities did not act to stop the violations.

"Sexual abuse was prevalent among displaced children in the camps that were targeted [for study]. The situation of children in these camps is precarious," she said during the launch of the report in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

The study was conducted from 304 questionnaires filled in by children aged between 10 and 18.

It said security forces, fellow refugees, teachers, medical and aid workers are some of the people blamed for many of the abuses. "Data indicates that it is people known to children, people with whom they closely interact on a daily basis and trust [who] sexually abuse them," the report said.

World Vision urged governments in the region to introduce policies to protect and help displaced people, ensure children had access to basic healthcare and education and to help reunite children separated from their families.

Other factors responsible for child abuse, according to the report, included lack of awareness about sexual abuse and easy availability of pornography. Congestion in the camps meant that children sometimes watched adults having sex.

Many children lacked parental guidance and it was found that more than 100,000 children in the Great Lakes region were unaccompanied, both inside and outside their countries of origin.