LONDON / KHARTOUM –
Girls aged between 12 and 17 years old are being sexually assaulted and raped in alarming numbers by members of the warring parties in Sudan, Save the Children reported in a press release on Friday.
The Combating Violence Against Women Unit of the Sudanese Ministry of Social Affairs confirmed the young age of some victims in a statement on social media.
The children make up some of the cases of sexual and gender-based violence as a result of the escalating conflict between the Sudan Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), with incidents of rape, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation being reported by women and girls who have fled the conflict in Khartoum and other areas.
While conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) is understood to be rampant, only 88 cases of rape as a result of the conflict have been verified. This includes at least 42 alleged cases in the capital, Khartoum, and 46 in the Darfur region, Save the Children stated.
However, according to the Combating Violence Against Women Unit, these figures likely represent only two per cent of the total cases, “meaning there have been a possible 4,400 cases of sexual violence in 11 weeks alone.
‘Sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war against children to terrorise them, spread fear and intimidation for political and military gain, to ethnically cleanse or humiliate an ethnic group, or to punish civilians for suspected support of opposing forces.’
“Some survivors are arriving in neighbouring countries pregnant as a result of rape, according to UNHCR,” Save the Children said. “There have also been reports of girls being kidnapped and held for days while being sexually assaulted, and of gang rapes of girls and women.
“Save the Children staff are also reporting that some children are being targeted specifically for their ethnicity as well as their gender. Save the Children is also particularly concerned about children travelling alone, who will be at much higher risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.
“Even before fighting broke out on 15 April, more than three million women and girls in Sudan were at risk of gender-based violence. This number has since climbed to an estimated 4.2 million people.
“Sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war against children to terrorise them, spread fear and intimidation for political and military gain, to ethnically cleanse or humiliate an ethnic group, or to punish civilians for suspected support of opposing forces.
“The trauma it inflicts can have long-lasting physical, psychological, social, and economic effects. The brutality of the physical act itself can be especially damaging for children whose bodies aren’t fully developed. Girls might suffer uterine prolapses, fistula, and other injuries to their reproductive system, and face complications and death due to early pregnancy and unsafe abortions. Both girls and boys risk urinary and anal damage, and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases that, left untreated, can cause long-term harm and even death.
In North Kordofan, Save the Children runs six mobile health clinics providing primary health care services for displaced populations. “Unfortunately, we are encountering frequent cases of women affected by sexual violence during our consultations and are doing our best to support them,” Sara Abdelrazig, Save the Children’s Head of Implementation in the state said.
“The emergency unit at the main hospital was hit during an airstrike and we do not have any good hospitals here now where we can refer serious medical cases to for further investigation. Often specialists for traumatic cases are unavailable and of course the lack of electricity is affecting the work in the laboratories and even sometimes the mobile health clinics.”
Save the Children is running mobile health clinics in the camps for displaced people, where survivors of violence have been identified. In cases of children with severe signs of trauma, Save the Children is providing specialised psychological care.
“Sexual violence continues to be used as a tool to terrorise women and children in Sudan. We know that the official numbers are only the tip of the iceberg. Children as young as 12 are being targeted for their gender, for their ethnicity, for their vulnerability,” says Arif Noor, Country Director for Save the Children in Sudan.
“Mothers have told Save the Children staff in displacement camps that one of their reasons for fleeing their homes is concerns for their personal safety and that of their girls. We have also heard parents who are making the agonizing decision to marry their daughters at a young age, in an attempt to “shield” them from further risks of sexual violence, assault or exploitation. This is a hideous and terrifying situation for girls to be in.”
‘An increasing number of children are at risk of child recruitment and association with armed groups’
“Save the Children is calling on parties to the conflict to agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities in Sudan and find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Every child, no matter where they live, deserves to live a safe, happy, and healthy life, free from violence. It is critical for the survival of children and families that we see an end to this fighting. This is the only way to protect children from violence and other violations of their rights.”
More than 3,000 people have died and 6,000 have been injured since 15 April, including at least 330 children killed and 1900 injured, according to the Sudanese Ministry of Health. However, aid workers and witnesses say many bodies have been uncounted. In addition, an increasing number of children are at risk of child recruitment and association with armed groups, Save the Children said.
The eruption of fighting comes as Sudan was already facing its worst-ever humanitarian crisis with existing conflict, natural disasters, disease outbreaks and economic degradation already leaving 15.8 million people in need, the press release concludes.
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) as well appealed on both warring parties “to end sexual violence as a tactic of war, allow victims full access to humanitarian support including medical, psychosocial, and legal aid, and abide by the rules of international humanitarian law” in a statement today.