Saturday, November 22, 2008

IRC: Rape on the Rise in North Kivu

An International Rescue Committee team that conducted a three-day assessment of conditions in Kibati Camp, north of Goma, found that women and girls are being raped both in and around the camp. The camp temporarily houses 55,000 people. "Women and girls are forced to leave the camp in search of additional firewood, food, and income for their families and these daily chores expose them to sexual violence," says Sarah Spencer, who oversees IRC programs for rape survivors in eastern Congo.

Rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout eastern Congo for years. Indeed, the Kivus are sometimes said to be the worst place in the world to be born a woman. The IRC says that women and girls are at much greater risk of violence and exploitation in the region during times of heightened military conflict, displacement and in unstable and unprotected settings.

Spencer says the international community is only scratching the surface of what's needed to aid rape survivors in North Kivu. She says much more needs to be done now and in the long-term to expand services and improve the safety and well-being of women and girls in the region.

"The health and psychological needs of rape survivors in Congo will continue long after the fighting stops," says Spencer. "Addressing their needs must become a priority for the international community."

Meanwhile UNICEF reports that fighting in North Kivu has caused massive disruptions in schooling for hundreds of thousands of children. Throughout the province, thousands of schools are closed. Many schools are now occupied by displaced people.

UNICEF estimates that 60 per cent of the newly displaced people are children. Since late August, over 250,000 people have fled conflict, bringing the total number of displaced in the province to over one million.

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