Friday, March 25, 2005

Peacekeeper Babies

The United Nations has a small problem: babies left behind by the peacekeepers in the various war-torn countries that need peace keeping by an international organization. Now a new report argues for DNA testing and child support payments from any peacekeepers who are found to have fathered these babies.

The report is about sexual exploitation and rape by the United Nations peacekeepers, the ones who are supposed to be the good guys. Most of them probably are, but enough are not to acount for the concern:

Titled "A Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Future Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations," the document insists that U.N. interventions operate on the principle that they will not "in any way increase the suffering of vulnerable sectors of [a] population."

In the DRC, the report says, "sexual exploitation and abuse mostly involves the exchange of sex for money (on average $1-$3 per encounter), for food (for immediate consumption or to barter later) or for jobs."

Sexual exploitation by peacekeepers may threaten the security of missions, the study suggests, exposing them "to blackmail and violent retaliation." It also speeds the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

"Victims frequently suffer from psychological trauma as a result of their experiences. Victims and abandoned peacekeeper babies may face stigmatization by their families and communities, which deprive them of all support."

Proposals for change include things like banning all sex, having more sports facilities and internet facilities and introducing more female peacekeepers. This last idea made my hair stand up until I read that

"The presence of more women in a mission, especially at senior levels, will help to promote an environment that discourages sexual exploitation and abuse."

What the report might not address is the fact that the peacekeepers causing most of the problems come from a small group of countries. This suggests to me that it might be the values and traditions of some peacekeepers that need to be addressed for any real change to happen. But this is a touchy topic as the U.N. doesn't want to blame any country which would then huff and puff in indignation and maybe even withdraw its offer to send peacekeepers.

But something certainly needs to be done. Some of the sex discussed in the report was with children, and all the victims had just undergone extremely traumatic events in their lives, including violence, dislocation into camps, hunger and the loss of family members. They need protection, not exploitation.