Rapes in Haiti at four-year high, says UNICEF
A child walks next to rubble of an earthquake-damaged house in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011. (AP / Ramon Espinosa)
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 6, 2011 9:09PM EST
OTTAWA - The rape of women and girls in post-earthquake Haiti has reached a four-year high, says a new United Nations report.
Rape, sexual assault and the exploitation of children in the sex industry is at its highest level since 2006, says a report by the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, released Thursday.
The crowded and precarious conditions in tent camps are cited by UNICEF for increasing the vulnerability of women and children.
The report is one of several emerging in the run-up to the one-year anniversary of Haiti's Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that killed 200,000 and forced 1.5 people million from their homes.
A separate Amnesty International report, also released Thursday, found that the earthquake sparked an increase in sexual violence across Haiti.
Both studies noted that the earthquake made worse pre-existing problems of gender inequality within Haitian society.
"Facing crowed and precarious living conditions in displacement camps and little options for livelihoods, women and girls have also grown increasingly vulnerable to gender based violence (GBV), including sexual exploitation and abuse -- with Haiti reporting the highest levels of rapes and sexual assault since 2006 and a rise in domestic violence and commercial sexual exploitation of children," said the UNICEF report.
The UN agency has worked to bolster Haiti's women's rights agency, which lost most of its infrastructure in the quake.
It has also helped train about 100 police officers and 225 staff of local non-governmental organizations.
"There was no social safety net in place before the earthquake happened," said Kim Moran, president of UNICEF Canada.
"When the emergency happened, we knew this was going to escalate. It's not an unusual circumstance when people are living in such close quarters in the tent camps that are there."
UNICEF has made digging latrines a priority so men and women can have separate facilities, she said.
"As simple as this sounds, just having separate male and female latrines, if you can imagine, it reduces some of the gender-based violence."
Amnesty International cited inadequate latrines and washing areas in camps as a factor that put women and girls at risk.
It also found that most rapes were perpetrated by gangs of youth and armed men that roam camps after dark.
Canada should exert diplomatic pressure on the government of Haiti and the UN mission to increase night patrols of camps, said Andrew Thompson, a spokesman for Amnesty International Canada.
Canada, as a member of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, has a "significant voice" in the reconstruction efforts, he said.
"Canada can use a lot of diplomatic leverage to make this a priority both for the Haitian government and the international community at large."
Local activists reported 250 rapes in 15 camps in the first five months after the quake, the Amnesty report said.
"The survivors of sexual violence have been abandoned by the authorities. The response from the authorities to the survivors of sexual attacks has been ineffectual," it said.
"Victims of sexual violence face daunting barriers in accessing justice, with little prospect that their attackers will be prosecuted."