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UN peacekeepers abandoned hundreds of children after impregnating mothers in Haiti, research shows

The Globe and Mail with Kaila Mintz 18 December 2019

 

United Nations peacekeepers have abandoned hundreds of children after impregnating their mothers while working in Haiti, leaving them to live in extreme poverty, new research shows.

A pair of researchers led a study into the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, employing a team to interview about 2,500 Haitians in the summer of 2017 about the experiences of local women and girls living in communities that host peacekeeping missions; 265 of them shared stories about children fathered by UN peacekeepers.

“The narratives reveal how girls as young as 11 were sexually abused and impregnated by peacekeepers and then, as one man put it, ‘left in misery’ to raise their children alone,” says the study, which was first published in the journal International Peacekeeping last week.

The researchers also tracked the nationalities of the peacekeepers involved. Individuals from Uruguay and Brazil were identified the most; Canada ranked seventh out of 12 countries named.

It is “unsettling” to see Canada included on the list, said Dr. Susan Bartels, an emergency physician and global-health researcher based in Kingston, Ont., who co-authored the study with Sabine Lee, a professor in modern history at the University of Birmingham.

“It was economic need that led to the conception of many of these children,” Dr. Bartels said. “And that’s because poverty is extreme and pervasive in Haiti and education and employment opportunities are extremely limited and so the women were already living in poverty and then they’re left to raise a child, so they faced more economic hardship.”

A UN peace operations spokesperson said the organization takes the issues raised in the report “seriously.”

“Combating sexual exploitation and abuse perpetrated by personnel serving under the United Nations flag, whether in peacekeeping or special political missions, other United Nations entities or non-United Nations international forces authorized by a Security Council mandate, is a priority collective effort for the United Nations,” a UN peace operations spokesperson said in an e-mail.

The spokesperson said the UN has seen cases involving its peacekeepers in Haiti, but that allegations have been “generally declining since 2013.” The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti was in place from 2004 to 2017.

The new research reported stories of women being ostracized by their families after having a child with a foreign soldier, and some women and girls who were not able to return to school. There were a number of girls, said Dr. Bartels, who were underage.

The study includes stories of transactional sex, in which women receive “small amounts of money in exchange for sex” and in other cases, women and girls received food in exchange for sex.

Dr. Bartels said that the “vast majority” of relationships were transactional, but there were a handful of adult women who appeared to be in consensual relationships.

Daniel Le Bouthillier, a spokesman for the Department of National Defence, said DND and the Canadian Armed Forces have not received first-hand reporting from deployed members, UN stakeholders or partner countries regarding allegations of unlawful or inappropriate behaviour by CAF members while on peacekeeping missions in Haiti.

“We remain alert to any allegations of wrongdoing and are committed to meeting our obligations under international and Canadian law,” he said.

An official from Global Affairs said that since 2011 there have been six allegations of sexual exploitation or abuse by Canadian peacekeepers in Haiti.

The RCMP, which also has operations in Haiti, did not respond at time of publication.

The findings of the report are not surprising, said Kaila Mintz, co-ordinator of Code Blue, a campaign that aims to end impunity for sexual abuse by UN staff.

Women face many challenges after having a child fathered by a peacekeeper, Ms. Mintz said.

“When they do come forward to report their claims, they are either not heard or they’re not dealt with appropriately … so it’s really an unfortunate situation that there are so many stories like these and this is a really important study to shine a light on the issue,” she said.

Kaila Mintz is the Code Blue Campaign Coordinator and senior advisor at AIDS-Free World.