By: Lisa Schlein
GENEVA — The United Nations says that rape and sexual abuse is widespread throughout Somalia, though cases remain seriously underreported. A new report notes during the first half of the year, from January to June, some 800 cases of sexual and gender-based violence were reported in the capital, Mogadishu, alone.
Sexual and gender-based violence has been pervasive in Somalia for many years and appears to be growing. A spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, says internally displaced women and girls are most affected.
“Rape continues to be perpetrated by unknown armed men and men wearing military uniform. Sexual and gender-based violence also includes domestic violence, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, and early and forced marriage. The majority of the survivors of this are women aged 18 and above,” said Laerke.
The United Nations puts the number of internally displaced in Somalia at 1.1 million. Last year, the U.N. recorded at least 1,700 rapes in 500 camps in the capital Mogadishu. Human rights groups say many cases of rape go unreported because women fear being stigmatized and victims of reprisals.
This was illustrated earlier this year when a woman was arrested for claiming security forces had raped her. She and the journalist who broke the story were imprisoned for one year. They were released after two months in the face of an international outcry.
Presently, investigations are under way into the alleged gang rape by African Union troops of a Somali woman in Mogadishu.
The U.N. Children’s Fund says one-third of the victims of sexual violence are children. UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says that last year, her agency and partners provided assistance to more than 2,200 victims of gender-based violence in central and south Somalia.
“One particular form of assistance is quite interesting because girls and women are at extremely high risk of being attacked while collecting firewood. So, through funding from the Japanese government actually, we have provided thousands of families, of girls and women, displaced girls and women with fuel efficient stoves as part of the assistance provided,” said Mercado.
The United Nations reports humanitarian agencies on the ground provide survivors of sexual abuse with medical assistance, psychosocial support, and legal counseling.