United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti fathered hundreds of children with local women and girls — sometimes through exploitative or violent sex — and then abandoned them, according to a troubling study published Wednesday in The Conversation.
Researchers Sabine Lee, a history professor at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., and Susan Bartels, a clinician-scientist at Queen’s University in Ontario, said they interviewed some 2,500 Haitians in the summer of 2017 for the study. The interviewees were asked about the experiences of women and girls living in communities where personnel with the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, were active.
Of those interviewed, 265 people told stories featuring children fathered by MINUSTAH personnel. These stories were told spontaneously and without any prompting from researchers, and “involved girls as young as 11” — some of whom were allegedly raped and sexually assaulted by peacekeepers, the report said.
In many cases, impoverished women and girls were given small amounts of money or food in exchange for sex. “They put a few coins in your hands to drop a baby in you,” one woman was quoted as saying.
Once the infants arrived, however, the mothers — many of whom had barely enough to sustain themselves — were left to care for the children on their own, the researchers said, adding that many peacekeepers were repatriated to their home countries when the pregnancies became known. The U.N. has a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual exploitation and abuse.
The researchers said MINUSTAH personnel from at least 13 countries are believed to have fathered children during the mission. A majority of the men implicated were from Brazil and Uruguay, the report said.
“That 10% of those interviewed mentioned such children highlights just how common such stories really are,” the researchers noted.
MINUSTAH is the United Nations’ longest-running mission in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation.
The mission was first launched in 2004, after the toppling of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a coup d’état, and remained active until 2017, when it was replaced by a smaller operation.
As The New York Times noted, MINUSTAH has long been dogged by accusations of sexual misconduct and other wrongdoing. In 2007, the U.N. apologized after more than 100 Sri Lankan MINUSTAH peacekeepers were accused of exploiting nine children in a sex ring.
The organization has also acknowledged its role in a years-long cholera outbreak in Haiti, which originated near a U.N. base and is believed to have killed at least 10,000 people.
Responding to this week’s report, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations told The Washington Post in a statement that it took the allegations seriously and vowed to “do more” to curb such behavior.
“Sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. personnel can undermine the trust of the local population whom we are mandated to support, assist and protect. We cannot accept this,” department spokesman Nick Birnback told the Post.
“Our policy is and will always be victim-centered, and so it is critical that anyone who has allegations against U.N. personnel comes forward to report them,” Birnback added.
As Lee and Bartels noted, the U.N. has been accused of failing to help Haitian women and girls sexually exploited by peacekeepers.
Lawyers with the Haitian-based Bureau des Avocats Internationaux said in January that the U.N. had withheld evidence that may aid paternity suits filed on behalf of 10 children allegedly fathered by peacekeepers.
“The U.N. makes grand claims about supporting the dignity and rights of victims of peacekeeper sexual exploitation and abuse, yet for over two years it has failed to share critical evidence in our clients court cases or provide adequate assistance to these women and children,” the group said.
Member states ― and not just the U.N. ― also need to take responsibility for peacekeeping troops’ actions, Lee said.
“It’s not a U.N. problem, it’s a Brazilian military problem, or a Uruguayan military problem,” Lee told the Times. “The U.N. though, hasn’t found a way to hold the troops of the member states to account.”
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