Addressing this scourge was the subject of a recent United Nations event held during the opening session of the General Assembly, at which senior officials called for measures to ensure that the perpetrators were to blame. responsible for their crimes.
“I followed him into the house. I didn’t know he was going to rape me.” Just 13 years old, Mariama (not her real name) was sexually assaulted by a neighbor when she got home from school: 9 months later, still a child, she became a mother. “At 16, I had a daughter who was almost one and a half years old.”
About 17% of women in the Comoros have experienced at least one physical or sexual violence in their life, and more than 30% of girls were married when they were children.
According to Mr. Ahamed Said, from the Comoros Ministry of Health, most cases of violence are reported by young girls: “Last year, we received 173 reports of sexual violence, of which 162 cases were reported. is for young girls under the age of 17”.
However, given the social norms in The Comoros and the economic vulnerability of women, the official figures are arguably just the tip of the iceberg.
It is taboo for a woman to report abuse and as long as she stays in the same house as the man involved, she will rarely come out.
“Women often have no source of income, and when a man divorces a woman, he will no longer take care of the children,” explained Mr. Said. “There is no social service to manage such cases, and there is no place where they can seek shelter.”
Listen and protect
Despite the challenges, the UN is committed to ending all forms of violence against women and girls in the Comoros.
United Nations reproductive health agency, UNFPAestablished a toll-free hotline where survivors can call for help and information about getting medical and legal assistance, and support Children’s Hearing and Advocacy Services and Women Victims of Violence, in Moroni.
The service also provides midwifery and contraceptive services, post-rape care and screening for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as referral to hospital. Since 2021, a psychologist has also been deployed to help women and girls who have to take care of their families alone.
Said said that since the Service started operating, about 17 years ago, awareness of sexual violence has increased in The Comoros, and women and girls are more likely to report incidents of sexual violence. attack than before it was opened.
After her attack, Mariama was determined to seek help and justice, received medical and legal assistance from the center, and staff members supported her when the case was brought to light. court after the man was arrested.
‘Most perpetrators never face responsibility’
The sense of urgency in ensuring accountability for sexual violence was highlighted at a recent side event at the 77th UN General Assembly, which emphasized the need to focus on the needs and rights of the victim above all.
“The survivor-centered approach we promote is to listen to survivors, treat them with dignity, and advocate for a response that focuses on their needs and wants,” said Director UNFPA Executive, Dr. Natalia Kanem said.
“Few people have access to justice, and most perpetrators are never held accountable for their crimes. Such punishment silences survivors and covers the perpetrators. “
Ms Kanem described sexual violence as “a global emergency that requires our full commitment, cooperation and mobilization”.
“Sexual violence is not inevitable,” she said. “We cannot allow it to become normalized in any way.”
Justice is short lived
For Mariama, justice was disappointingly short-lived: Her rapist was released after serving just one year in prison. “I still see him in our neighborhood, but I always stay away or change my route. If he tries to talk to me, I won’t answer,” she said.
Although she is afraid of being attacked again, she is defiant. “My focus now is on my education: I want to be a lawyer.”
Mariama wants to stand up for herself and for others, especially her daughter. “I want her to be better able to defend herself and other young girls who may be subjected to any form of abuse.”