The 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, to be launched on March 1, warns that rape and other sexual violence are depriving millions of children of an education by keeping them in a climate of terror.
The report, The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education, turns the spotlight on the widespread and systematic sexual violence in conflict-affected countries, whose victims include a high proportion of school-age girls.
The problem was brought sharply into focus by a recent trial in the Democratic of the Congo (DRC), reported this week by the Associated Press. An army colonel, Mutuare Daniel Kibibi, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for crimes against humanity after a brutal attack on a village during which at least 62 women were raped.
The AP reported that Kibibi was accused of ordering his troops to attack the village of Fizi on New Year’s Day. Doctors later treated 62 women who had been raped.
As the AP article points out, arrests and prosecutions for such attacks in eastern DRC are rare. The 2011 Global Monitoring Report draws attention to the need to end such impunity, which leads to the climate of fear captured vividly in the article. Although 11 men were brought to trial, more than 100 soldiers had been at the Fizi camp that day and many remained in the area.
“We are very fearful,” one woman told the AP. “Most of the rapists are still right here in our village. If we go to the river for water, we get raped; if we go to the fields for food, we get raped; if we go to the market to sell our goods, we get raped. Our lives are filled with danger. There is no peace.”
The international courts set up after the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda have firmly established rape and other sexual violence as war crimes, yet these acts remain widely deployed as weapons of war.
Government soldiers as well as armed militia members are implicated, and some governments are failing to protect children and education by turning a blind eye to widespread and systematic sexual violence.
Sexual violence damages education on many levels. Girls subjected to rape often experience grave physical injury – with long-term consequences for school attendance. The psychological effects, including depression, trauma, shame and withdrawal, have devastating consequences for learning.
Many girls drop out of school after rape because of unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS, as well as other forms of ill health, trauma, displacement or stigma.
Robbing children of a secure home environment and traumatizing the communities that they live in profoundly impairs prospects for learning. Sexual violence creates a wider atmosphere of insecurity that leads to a decline in the number of girls able to attend school.
Many countries that have emerged from violent conflict – including Guatemala and Liberia – continue to report elevated levels of rape and sexual violence, suggesting that practices that emerge during violent conflict become socially ingrained. While the majority of victims are girls and women, boys and men are at risk in some countries.
Rape has long been mischaracterized and dismissed by military and political leaders in other words, those in a position to stop it as a private crime, a sexual act, the ignoble conduct of one occasional soldier, or, worse still, it has been accepted precisely because it is so commonplace.