Tue, Feb 27, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Lone warriors rescue sex slaves and rape survivors in Central African Republic

By Inna Lazareva  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, BANGUI

“If I hadn’t been heard, I would have stayed in a state of trauma until today,” said Solange, who gave only her first name.

This kind of support for victims goes against the secrecy and stigma surrounding rape in the Central African Republic.

“People still point fingers at you in the street, make fun of you,” Hulda said.

The damage is often irreparable — from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases to the marital breakdowns that occur in 99 percent of the cases, according to Nali.


Engulfed by violence, the Central African Republic has one of the highest proportions of citizens in need of aid worldwide, about half of them are children aged less than 18, the UN says.

Outside the capital, where the state has little control and poverty is rife, armed groups rape and kidnap young girls, said Remy Djamouss, president of the Center for the Promotion and Defense of Children’s Rights, a Bangui-based organization.

“Sometimes, rebel chiefs come and tell the parents, ‘We need your daughter.’ It’s not a request — it’s an obligation,” he said. “If the parents refuse, they will be killed.”

Alternatively, the rebels just rape the girls, knowing that families will often marry them off to their abuser, he added.

In one case that he cited, an ex-Seleka rebel chief in the town of Kaga-Bandoro, about 250km north of Bangui, married a 10-year-old girl and started having sex with her at 11. She bore her first child at the age of 12.

“Today she is 16 and goes with him everywhere as his sex slave,” Djamouss said.

“She lives in an open-air prison, and many others are in the same atrocious situation,” he said, putting the figure in the hundreds.

His center negotiates with armed groups to release the girls, or helps them flee.

Last year, Djamouss rescued five girls, while his colleagues freed 15 others across the country, even though rebel chiefs often threatened their lives, he said.


In the face of widespread impunity, Nali, Djamouss and others like them are lone warriors in the battle against rape.

Outside Bangui, there are only a few functioning courts, while survivors are often too scared to seek legal action, said Carine Fornel of the Association of Female Lawyers, which runs legal drop-in clinics in Bangui and offers counseling.

A report last year by Human Rights Watch said that of nearly 300 sexual violence survivors surveyed, only 11 tried to file a complaint.

They received death threats and were subjected to physical attacks for daring to come forward, the rights group said.

Six of the nine women and girls who reported the abuse to state authorities said they were mistreated by those authorities, who demanded that they track down their own abusers, refused to accept complaints or did not follow up their cases, the report said.

A recent UN report said that in the few cases where the state had taken action, abusers were given derisory sentences, escaped from prison or were moved outside Bangui.

Solange, for example, spotted one of her attackers freely wandering around a market in the capital.

Finance is another obstacle to obtaining justice.

“We don’t have the money to open the case, to pay the lawyers, even to pay for transport. A single mother with a child — where can she find the money?” Solange said.


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