“They put a few coins in your hands to drop a baby in you,” one woman was quoted in a study that looked at the experiences of women and girls living around United Nations bases in Haiti.
In the newly released study published in The Conversation, researchers found that United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti fathered and left behind hundreds of children, leaving the mothers, some as young as 11, to raise children by themselves in conditions of extreme poverty.
“Girls as young as 11 were sexually abused and impregnated” by peacekeepers, who were stationed in Haiti from 2004 to 2017, and some of the women were later abandoned to raise their children alone, according to the study by two academic researchers, Sabina Lee, a history professor at the University of Birmingham, and Susan Bartels, a clinician-scientist at Queen’s University in Ontario.
The researchers surveyed 2,500 Haitians who lived in areas that hosted the United Nations’ 13-year Stabilization Mission in Haiti, also known as Minustah.
Of the people interviewed, about 265 people told stories of children who have been fathered by members of the peacekeeping force who came from about 13 countries, but mostly Brazil and Uruguay.
In some instances, peacekeepers traded small amounts of money or food for sex with victims who are mostly poor. Other peacekeepers had consensual relationships with the victims and once they left Haiti, the relationship also ended.
“I had a sister who was dating a MINUSTAH soldier. My whole family knew about it, my mother as well as other people. She became pregnant … Ever since, my sister’s life is a mess,” a man was quoted in the study.
Critics have so far hit hard at the United Nations for its failure to assist these women and girls. Various human rights groups, including the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, have also approached United Nations officials for child support for the mothers but have not received any.
The UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (Minustah) is the longest-running mission by the organization (2004-2017) in a country said to be the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation.
Launched in 2004 after the toppling of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a coup d’état, the mission “was originally mandated to assist local Haitian institutions in a context of political instability and organised crime.”
“Its mandate was then extended due to natural disasters, most notably an earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, both of which added to the volatility of the political situation in the country,” writes The Conversation.
In October 2017, it was replaced by a smaller organization – the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH).
But over the years, there have been reported cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by Minustah.
The United Nations even recently admitted that more than 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers deployed to Haiti exploited nine children in a sex ring from 2004 to 2007. The men were sent home but not punished.
This study comes on the back of other sexual misconduct cases by international peacekeeping forces stationed in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Mozambique.
The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, in a statement, said it had taken the issues raised in the study seriously and “that combating sexual exploitation and abuse committed by peacekeepers is a top priority.”
In what is the African diaspora’s oldest country, instability recently reared its head again in Haiti, with street protests in the capital Port-au-Prince since the beginning of December.
For about half a century, the Caribbean nation has struggled to overcome the problems of poverty and inequality. It is a country that has also seen the worst of brutal dictatorships in the hands of the Duvalier family.
The 215-year-old country has also been the unfortunate victim of both natural and Western-ensured tragedies. All of these have worked up a national psyche of survival and very little patience for governmental inadequacies.