A new report has uncovered what researchers believe to be sexual misconduct by U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti, who allegedly fathered hundreds of children with vulnerable women and girls before abandoning them.
Tuesday, as part of a report published on the independent journalistic collaborative website The Conversation, researchers interviewed approximately 2,500 Haitians about the experiences of local women and girls in areas that hosted the United Nations’ 13-year Stabilization Mission in Haiti, also known as MINUSTAH.
Of that selected focus group, approximately 265 people came forward with stories about children by fathered by U.N. personnel, which substantiates previous accusations of sexual misconduct carried out by peacekeepers against populations they were sent to protect.
“They come, they sleep with the women, they take their pleasures with them, they leave children in their hands, give them 500 gourdes (about $5.24),” said one man from the Cité Soleil community at Port Au Prince
What makes this betrayal even more egregious is that that sexual contact was not always consensual, with some citizens alluding to instances of rape or sexual violence. Amongst the most disturbing accusations of abuse where claims that girls as young as 11 were impregnated and left to raise children on their own while still living in conditions of extreme poverty. In some cases, sexual assaults were also against boys.
More often that sexual assault though, were the claims of a “common pattern” of coercion, where Haitian women in dire straits were bribed with small amounts of money or food in exchange for sex.
— Sean O'Neill (@TimesONeill) December 18, 2019
Haiti, which is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has been experiencing prolonged political turmoil with deadly protests as a result. Demonstrators are protesting the extreme poverty that has gripped the nation.
The United Nations World Food Program says a recent survey found that one in three Haitians, or 3.7 million people, need urgent food assistance and 1 million are experiencing severe hunger. The WFP, which says it is trying to get emergency food assistance to 700,000 people, blames rising prices, the weakening local currency, and a drop in agricultural production due partly to the disruption of recent protests.
UN peacekeepers began to arrive in Haiti in 2010 after about 1,000 were relocated from Nepal to respond to a devastating earthquake that leveled Port Au Prince. They were blamed for as many as 800,000 of cases of cholera reintroduced there with as many as 9,500 deaths all because basic sanitation measures were not taken, The Guardian reports.
According to The Washington Post, the research team, which was led by Sabine Lee, a professor at the University of Birmingham, and Susan Bartels, a clinician-scientist at Queen’s University in Ontario, did not give question people directly about any sexual relations with the U.N. peacekeepers or any children that resulted. Instead the people volunteered that information.
One woman detailed how “a series of females 12 and 13 years old” were impregnated by MINUSTAH personnel, then left “in misery with babies in their hands.”
Another islander simply explained, “They put a few coins in your hands to drop a baby in you.”
U.N. personnel from 13 countries have been implicated in this abuse of power, the majority being from Brazil and Uruguay. And in most cases they were sent back to their native lands after the pregnancies became known, leaving the mothers to fend for themselves with no assistance.
“We have unfortunately seen cases involving MINUSTAH peacekeepers over the past years, although allegations have been generally declining since 2013,” the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations said in a statement. “Our approach puts the rights and dignity of victims at the forefront of its efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse.”
The United Nations also concedes that it has received 116 formal allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse since 2007, all of which concern Haiti peacekeepers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.