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I don't go with boys. The only man who gives me things is the caretaker's husband. . . . He sometimes calls me to scratch his back. . . . I am afraid when I scratch his back-for fear that he would rape me. . . . He once told me to come in the room. I was about to shout, but he shoved a cloth in my mouth. . . . He put his fingers down there (pointing to her vagina). . . . I told my caretaker, his wife, when this happened, and she treated me normal the rest of the day. . . . This happened about a month ago.113

International legal standards

Sexual Violence and Abuse

It is not clear how widespread the problem of sexual violence against girls is among Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea. Human Rights Watch documented six cases of rape of refugee girls and two cases of sexual molestation of separated girls by their caregivers among the forty-nine children interviewed in total, thirty-three of whom were girls. All but one of the incidents documented by Human Rights Watch occurred in the Massakundou camp, where there is an active women's association which has helped to cultivate an environment where refugees recognize the problem of sexual violence and feel relatively comfortable discussing it. The situation was quite different in other camps Human Right Watch visited, where victims were not encouraged to report cases of sexual abuse to social workers, camp leaders, local Guinean authorities, or UNHCR.123

Neither local health posts nor UNHCR protection or community services officers conduct screening to determine the occurrence of sexual abuse in the refugee camps. They have, however, attempted to identify victims of sexual abuse by the rebels in Sierra Leone (before flight to Guinea) in order to provide these women and girls with assistance and protection. While this is commendable, Human Rights Watch is concerned that it has been done at the expense of addressing the problem of sexual violence occurring inside the camps. Some social workers who are mandated to work with victims of sexual abuse, commonly referred to in the camps as "SAs," told Human Rights Watch that they only understood "SA" to refer to women and girls who had been sexually abused by the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Few of the social workers expressed concern over the problem of sexual violence in the refugee camps in Guinea.

If cases are reported at all, it is usually to the refugee camp committee-a group of community leaders who deal with grievances and, in conjunction with victims' families, prescribe traditional Sierra Leonean solutions to problems. In cases of rape, victims told Human Rights Watch that the traditional settlement would be an order for the perpetrator to pay the victim's family a sum of money or property (typically livestock). They did not expect their assailants to be punished in other ways or to face criminal charges.

Even when traditional measures ensue, there is no guarantee of the settlement and fine. Mariama O., a twelve-year-old girl in Massakundou camp, was abducted by a refugee man in broad daylight in a public area in the center of the refugee camp, taken away, and raped. She reported the violation to the camp committee. After three days of negotiation, a traditional settlement was reached and the camp committee ordered the abuser to pay her money as compensation. However, her attacker never paid and remains at large in the refugee camp. Mariama O. is not aware of any efforts by the camp committee to enforce the settlement.124

Nor is there any guarantee that the camp committee will take any action in response to a report of sexual violence. Virginia M. was raped by a refugee man in Massakundou when she was eleven years old. Her father walked into a neighbor's house looking for her and found her being raped by the neighbor. Her family reported the abuse to the camp committee, but Virginia M. is not aware of any action taken in response.125

Agnes B., a sixteen-year-old girl, was abducted by a Guinean citizen in the bush early in the morning. He held a gun to her and said, "Undress or I'll kill you" and then raped her. She came running back to the refugee camp shouting and crying, waking much of the camp, and later officially reported the incident to the camp committee. However, to her knowledge, neither the camp committee, the local authorities, nor UNHCR ever took any action in response to her complaint.126

Amara C., a thirteen-year-old separated child in Massakundou who lives with her grandmother, said she did not bother to go to the camp committee when she was raped because, "my caretaker said we don't have any money to deal with that sort of thing." 127 A group of five girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch, all rape victims, concurred, "If you don't have money, your case won't go anywhere."128

There is nothing akin to a police force in the refugee camps in Guinea. The local Guinean gendarmes in nearby villages are responsible for dealing with sexual violence against refugees committed in or around refugee camps as crimes committed within their jurisdiction. However, they do not maintain a permanent presence in the refugee camps and reportedly have not been involved in handling cases of sexual violence. Language and cultural differences constitute a further obstacle to Sierra Leonean victims seeking a remedy within the Guinean justice system. Field research by Human Rights Watch did not uncover any cases in which rape of a refugee in Guinea had been prosecuted in the Guinean justice system.129
Child Prostitution

It is important to recognize that, among Sierra Leoneans, it can be an accepted practice for "wealthy" men to have sexual relationships with women, with an expectation that the woman will receive a "gift" in exchange. One UNHCR staff member hypothesized that sexual economic coercion of girls was only an extension of this "traditional practice." "It is not necessarily because they are refugees or need to survive," he postulated, "maybe it's for more money, or for pleasure. Maybe they have enough money, but want a nice pair of shoes. Maybe there are reasons like this."132

Human Rights Watch does not accept the thesis advanced by the UNHCR staff member. This thesis represents a misunderstanding of the hardship faced by refugees and the attitude behind it constitutes a fundamental obstacle to the protection of refugee girls at risk of sexual exploitation. The sexually exploited girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch lacked the resources to acquire food, clothing, and other necessities for themselves. Separated children in particular have found themselves in a situation where they have lost their families and communities, are mistreated by their caregivers, and some are frequently denied food. Many of the children have been raped or otherwise traumatized during the war in Sierra Leone, and most of the child prostitutes interviewed by Human Rights Watch had been raped in their refugee camps in Guinea. Some are responsible for providing for grandparents or younger siblings. They have little if any access to trauma counseling, education, vocational training, or other programs to promote their development, or to land suitable for farming. They are completely dependent on their caregivers, on social workers, and on UNHCR-and the system in place to protect and assist them has broken down.

As in most refugee settings, community support structures and traditional values in the Guinean refuge camps have been largely destroyed by the brutal conflict and the subsequent displacement. As a result, the support mechanisms that would have protected vulnerable individuals may no longer be present, for example, due to the absence of many male members from the community.133 A group of refugee women told IRC, "[in Sierra Leone,] families were together and could help. . . ." 134 A community services officer in Conakry explained:

It's the livelihood question. A girl has nothing-no education, no skills. In normal society, she might be protected. In a refugee camp, she might be given to the highest bidder. . . . There are lots of sexual relationships for economic protection.135

Community leaders in Fangamadou explained why adolescent girls are frequently at more of a disadvantage than boys:

Boys go to do jobs in the market, carry loads on their head for money. They can manage to live on this. Girls, on the other hand, are forced `into the street.' They force themselves with some men, sex for money, so they can buy something. . . .

Maturity comes early for girls. If she stays with someone who doesn't meet her needs, clothes, food, the child will compare herself to the others and decide to do sex for money. It's simple peer pressure-ask a friend where she got her money, and do the same. . . . I have even been in the home where the mother asked a child to go in search of money because there was no food in the house.136

Several girls, all but one of whom were separated children, pointed to economic necessity as the reason for their "going with those men." Siya E., who claimed she was sixteen years old but appeared physically like many twelve-year-old refugee girls, told Human Rights Watch:

I get 1,000-1500 FG. I go with them maybe once a week. It is the only way I can get food. I want to learn tailoring, but they would ask me for money to take the class. I don't have any money unless I go to men, unless I make sex with those men. . . . I have not taken the class yet because the money I get is very little. It is only enough to eat.137

Esther M. also claimed to be sixteen but appeared much younger. She lives with her elderly grandmother. She explained:

I'm here with my grandma in Mangay camp. My grandma is very old now, she is unable to take care of me, to even feed ourselves unless I go to those boys. Even to get clothes-unless we get jobs, all the way to Oeunde. My grandma is sick but I don't have the chance to help her unless I `fall in love' with those boys. Sometimes the boys give me 1000 FG, sometimes 500 FG for my living. I want to learn a job, but I don't have money to do so unless I go to those boys and ask for money. For me I want to go to school, but I don't have the chance. And my grandma doesn't have anything-she is very old.138

Community leaders in Fangamadou also told Human Rights Watch that some refugee girls had had sexual relations with registrars, Guinean citizens hired by UNHCR to conduct the refugee census, in the hopes that this would ensure that they would be properly registered and receive assistance. One such leader claimed, "Prostitution is a much bigger problem, especially with this registration problem." 139
Health and Developmental Risks

The girls run a high risk of getting pregnant, which can have long term health consequences for young girls, and of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases including AIDS/HIV. They are also at risk of emotional trauma. In a frank discussion about playing sex for money and reproductive health, five girls aged twelve to sixteen in Massakundou camp told Human Rights Watch:

· None knew where to get a condom.
· None thought their clients would want to use condoms.
· None of the girls had been pregnant yet, although they had not taken any precautions. They knew many other adolescent refugee girls who have become pregnant.
· All of the girls claimed that they had not contracted a sexually-transmitted disease yet.
· None knew of a clinic where to go if she got a sexually-transmitted disease. They said they might go to an old woman for traditional medicine if they got a sexually-transmitted disease, but this would cost money.
· None had ever had a medical checkup because they said it cost money to go to the doctor.

Three girls did not know what a condom was. The two others had each seen one once, but had never used one.

The Role of UNHCR

Refugee girls are often even more vulnerable than refugee boys. In some cultural and social contexts, girls are often less valued than boys and, consequently, are more often subject to neglect and abuse. Their participation in education programmes is often prematurely curtailed. They are subject to sexual abuse, assault and exploitation in greater numbers than boys.140

Existing Guidelines
UNHCR's guidelines on refugee children instruct staff to deal with sexual abuse of children as a problem of special urgency, as they do for other forms of the abuse of children. They specifically state that, "Evidence of sexual assault ... and similar violations for the safety and liberty of refugee children call for extraordinary measures," including factual investigation, legal action, assistance, and measures to prevent further incidence of abuse.141 They also instruct UNHCR staff to ensure that refugee children and their families have the benefit of adequate health care, including health education on sexually-transmitted diseases, and "give particular attention to the need of adolescents for such information." 142 In addition, the guidelines on refugee children refer UNHCR staff to the 1993 "Note on Certain Aspects of Sexual Violence against Refugee Women." 143 The guidelines on refugee children, do not, however, have a separate section on issues affecting girl refugees.

In 1995, UNHCR developed Sexual Violence against Refugees: Guidelines on Prevention and Response which set forth a near-comprehensive framework of steps to be taken to prevent sexual violence against refugees, how to identify cases of sexual violence, and steps to take in response.144 The guidelines on sexual violence emphasize that UNHCR staff have an important role to play in taking preventive measures and involving the host government in implementing those measures. In particular, they instruct UNHCR staff to stress to government authorities their duties to investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of sexual violence and "to adopt a firm and highly visible policy against all forms of sexual violence. . ." 145 They also discuss several ways in which public information campaigns targeted at refugees, UNHCR staff, NGO staff, and government officials can contribute to the reduction of sexual abuse.146

With respect to children, the guidelines on sexual violence highlight conditions that can make refugee children particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse, and advise staff on how to conduct interviews with children and respond when cases of abuse are found (either directly or indirectly, as when their primary caregiver has been abused). The guidelines on sexual violence do not specifically address sexual exploitation of refugee girls or women.
Sexual Abuse
UNHCR has not made sufficient efforts in Guinea to implement its existing guidelines to prevent, identify, or respond to sexual abuse. There have been some community-based efforts to prevent sexual violence. Most notably, IRC has supported nascent women's associations in the camps and facilitated their efforts to conduct community programs. In addition, in July 1999, IRC was beginning to implement an expanded community-based program to address sexual and gender-based violence with support from the U.N. Foundation.147 In Massakundou camp, the incidence of rapes reportedly went down when the refugee community made an effort to encourage those who went to the bush, particularly women and children, to travel in groups rather than alone.148

UNHCR, with funding from the U.S. government, created an impressive "Victims of Violence" program in late 1998 which provides, among other things, assistance and protection for women and girls who were victims of sexual abuse by the rebels in Sierra Leone. While the Victims of Violence program was intended solely to assist victims of abuses in Sierra Leone, aid workers implementing the program have intended to expand its scope to prevent and address abuses in the refugee camps to the extent possible. However, UNHCR also has a responsibility to do more to specifically address sexual abuse that occurs in the refugee camps in Guinea.

As noted above, as of mid-1999, refugee victims had not been encouraged to report cases of sexual abuse and UNHCR did not have permanent mechanisms to effectively screen or determine whether cases of sexual violence against children had occurred or how widespread the problem was. Protection officers in Gueckedou were not aware of many of the rape cases involving refugee children that Human Rights Watch documented-despite the fact that many of them had been reported to camp authorities. One UNHCR protection officer informed Human Rights Watch that there had not been any cases of rape involving separated children. However, as noted above, Human Rights Watch interviewed two separated children in Massakundou who had been raped and had reported the incidents.149

Protection officers told Human Rights Watch that there was little they could do in cases of rape because refugees frequently did not want their intervention, or were afraid UNHCR involvement would draw attention to the victim and exacerbate the social stigma associated with being a rape victim. One UNHCR officer told Human Rights Watch:

It is a paradox . . . Parents have only accepted responsibility in one instance, in Nongoa camp. In other cases, the parents won't even let UNHCR intervene. UNHCR decided to try to convince parents to accept outside support, but there is little we can do. . . . if anything, parents go to the camp chairman or refugee committee, not to UNHCR. . . . We need to take their culture into account, to search for an equilibrium. The families are afraid of being stigmatized. . . . We have not had much success in providing legal protection, so we attempt to alert community services of the cases.150

UNHCR also cited a lack of resources and field staff as reasons why they were not able to do more. As has been noted above, UNHCR maintains a very minimal field presence in the refugee camps in the Gueckedou area-only seven field officers and assistants-all of whom are men-for more than 300,000 refugees.151 Protection officers attempt to liaise with community services officers, and frequently vice versa, in an effort to channel appropriate assistance to rape victims who do not want to pursue legal action. However, it is likely that most of the victims do not receive any assistance because their cases are not identified due to the lack of effective screening or other identification mechanisms.
Sexual Exploitation
As has been noted above, UNHCR has not done enough to ensure that separated children and their caregivers receive adequate assistance and that children are not economically coerced into sexual relationships. One UNHCR staff member demonstrated that he did not even understand the challenges facing refugee children and families, asking a Human Rights Watch researcher, "Why don't women just get food for their children?" 152

UNHCR has also failed to provide girls with reproductive health care and education. IRC, the American Refugee Committee, and the Refugee Health Group as well as the Guinean government, all operate reproductive health education and care programs in camps in the Gueckedou area. However, these programs primarily target adults rather than adolescents, who are at particular risk. IRC has attempted to conduct reproductive health education, along with other programs, for adolescent refugees in Guinea by facilitating the creation of Young Women's Social Clubs in refugee schools. However, this program has only been able to reach a limited segment of the population because, as has been noted above, most adolescent girls are not in school. None of the adolescents that Human Rights Watch asked had ever heard of or received any assistance from these programs.

113 Human Rights Watch interview, Massakundou camp, March 3, 1999.

See also article 19, Convention on the Rights of the Child, "States parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation including sexual abuse . . ."

Article 32, Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Article 24, Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Article 39, Convention on the Rights of the Child.

UNHCR, Guidelines on sexual violence, p. 8.

This is also linked to inadequate levels of assistance.

UNHCR, Guidelines on sexual violence, p. 9.

Human Rights Watch interview, Mangay camp, February 19, 1999.

122 UNHCR, Guidelines on sexual violence p. 9 (emphasis in original).

UNHCR's guidelines on sexual violence discuss reasons sexual abuse is typically under-reported in refugee camps, including the stigma attached to being a victim of sexual abuse. Guidelines on sexual violence, pp. 4-6.

Human Rights Watch interview, Massakundou camp, March 4, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Massakundou camp, March 4, 1999.

126 Human Rights Watch interview, Massakundou camp, March 4, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Massakundou camp, March 4, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Massakundou camp, March 4, 1999.

One case in Nongoa camp was reported to the authorities, but information was not available as to the status of the case.

130 Human Rights Watch interview, Mangay camp, February 19, 1999.

The problem is not limited to refugee girls, but also affects refugee women. Kula H., a thirteen-year-old separated child in Massakundou who "plays sex for money" with three men a day, feels she has no choice: "My caretaker has had no food for three months. Every day, the caretaker complains that there is no food. The caretaker goes with men to get food, as well. So what am I supposed to do?" Human Rights Watch interview, Massakundou camp, March 4, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interviewed mothers and caregivers in Fangamadou and Massakundou camps, some of whom serve as community leaders or work as paid teachers, who confessed to engaging in sexual relationships in exchange for assistance for themselves and their children and separated children. One such woman in Fangamadou explained, "Imagine if you can't provide for yourself. I have also experienced this. . . ." Human Rights Watch interview, Fangamadou camp, February 20, 1999.

132 Human Rights Watch interview, Conakry, March 1, 1999.

UNHCR, Guidelines on sexual violence, pp. 7-8 (emphasis in original).

IRC Focus Group Report, December 1998.

Human Rights Watch interview, Conakry, February 27, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Fangamadou camp, February 24, 1999.

137 Human Rights Watch interview, Mangay camp, February 19, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Mangay camp, February 19, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Fangamadou camp, February 24, 1999.

140 UNHCR Policy on Refugee Children, para 12, presented to UNHCR Executive Committee, October 1993, as Document EC/SCP/82.

141 UNHCR, Refugee Children, p. 84

UNHCR, Refugee Children, P. 65.

UNHCR Executive Committee Conclusion No. 73 (XLIV) (1993) on Refugee Protection and Sexual Violence.

144 The 1994 guidelines on refugee children, which are still in force, have not been amended to reflect the 1995 guidelines on sexual violence.

UNHCR, Refugee Children, p. 20.

UNHCR, Guidelines on sexual violence, pp. 22-27.

147 Commonly referred to as the Ted Turner Fund.

Human Rights Watch interview with leader of a community organization, Massakundou camp, March 3, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interviews, Massakundou camp, March 4, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Gueckedou, February 18, 1999.

The guidelines on sexual violence recommend hiring female field and protection staff to help prevent sexual violence. UNHCR, Guidelines on sexual violence, pp. 17 - 19. For two fixed periods of several months in late 1998 and early 1999, a female protection officer was seconded from the Danish Refugee Council to implement the Victims of Violence Program.

Human Rights Watch interview, Conakry, March 1, 1999.

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