MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Sat 08-Mar-14 12:37:33

Guest post: "This International Women's Day, the government must commit to protecting children in war zones from rape and sexual abuse"

This International Women's Day, UNICEF and women across the UK – including our own Justine Roberts – are calling on the government to do more to protect children in the midst of conflict from rape and sexual violence.

In this guest post, Anita Tiessen of UNICEF UK explains why women and children are most vulnerable, and the urgent measures required to help them.

Anita Tiessen

Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF UK

Posted on: Sat 08-Mar-14 12:37:33

(3 comments )

Lead photo

Countless children - girls and boys - in conflict zones are in danger of sexual violence every year

Before her twelfth birthday, Fatima* was raped. When fighting broke out in her hometown in Somalia, she and her mother had fled to save their lives. But sadly, in her desperate search for safety in the capital Mogadishu, Fatima was attacked.

She is not alone. Countless children - girls and boys - who are caught up in conflicts around the world are in danger of sexual violence every year. In Syria, for instance, where the third anniversary of the fighting is approaching, children are not just dealing with bombs and bullets, fleeing their homes and seeing loved ones killed. These children, who have already suffered more than any mother's worst nightmare, are also at huge risk of sexual abuse and attack.

Between February and May last year nearly three quarters of Syrian refugees, newly arrived in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, who spoke to child protection researchers said that sexual violence is on the rise inside their country.

In the midst of conflict, many families no longer have means to feed themselves. Out of desperation they have no choice but to send their children out to work – picking potatoes in fields, or selling roses and tissues in the street. During conflict, systems that normally protect children, like schools and health and social services, break down, leaving them vulnerable to abuse.

Disturbingly, most children do not report sexual violence because they have no one to confide in or because they fear their attackers, or being stigmatised. Instead many bottle it up inside, causing deep psychological scars that could last a lifetime.


Disturbingly, most children do not report sexual violence because they have no one to confide in or because they fear their attackers, or being stigmatised. Instead many bottle it up inside, causing deep psychological scars that could last a lifetime.

On a recent trip to Lebanon I visited Child Friendly Spaces for Syrian refugee children, where they are encouraged to use art to express how they feel. Their drawings often paint a disturbing picture of violence and destruction, but slowly with the help of UNICEF Child Protection workers, they are able to come to terms with their experiences and begin the road to recovery.

UNICEF is helping those who have experienced trauma get the chance to be children again. The boys and girls I met were playing with each other and laughing, not unlike my own children at home – forgetting, at least for a while, about the violence and fear they have known for the past few years.

UNICEF works in conflict zones around the world to help children affected by sexual violence - from the safe spaces to play like those I visited, to vital education and psychological support. UNICEF is also working with communities to stop violence and abuse happening in the first place – including mobilising men, women and children to challenge negative views on gender, and working with children so they know how to protect themselves.

But much more needs to be done. This International Women's Day I am joining women across the UK to stand for change. As William Hague prepares to host the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London, we are calling on the UK Government to commit to protect children in conflict from sexual violence. This is the chance for international leaders to not only defend women, but to also commit to protecting children in war zones from rape and sexual abuse.

We want the UK Government to ensure the Summit prioritises measures to help children report sexual crimes and hold their abusers to account. We are also calling for more funding to give child survivors of sexual violence the psychological support they need for long-term recovery.

As mothers ourselves we can only begin to imagine how we would feel if it were our children. This is our chance to show our solidarity with women and their children caught up in conflicts around the world.

Please join our campaign to call for an end to sexual violence in conflict and make the June summit the start of a global change.

* Name changed to protect child's identity

By Anita Tiessen

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnitaTiessen

YoniMatopoeia Sat 08-Mar-14 13:27:23

Have signed.

RustyParker Sat 08-Mar-14 13:47:56

Signed and shared too.

bubblesmonkey Sun 09-Mar-14 08:29:34

Signed

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