The Janjaweed Arab militia's sexual and other assaults on the people of Darfur, western Sudan, have resulted not only in physical injuries, but a range of psychological traumas, including suicidal impulses and nightmares, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says.
In a new report, "The Effect of Conflicts on Health and Well-Being of Women and Girls in Darfur: Situational Analysis Report, Conversations with the Community," based on testimony from women, as well as men, UNICEF said that on questions of safety and security, "sexual violence and abuse was mentioned in every group discussion as an existent and serious problem for girls and women," with a deep impact on fathers and husbands.
Girls and women reported that incidents of sexual violence, abuse and abductions by the Janjaweed Arab militia were continuous, with most cases of sexual assault taking place outside of the camps for the internally displaced, usually when they were collecting firewood, or grass, UNICEF said in its summary.
The girls and women added that in addition to pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other illnesses, the psychosocial consequences for them included shame, depression, social stigma, difficulty coping, and at the worst, some girls and women had committed suicide, the study said.
All of the groups, but especially the men, felt powerless and humiliated by the ongoing violence directed at the women and girls. In one location, the men also said the only reason they had not committed suicide was because it was forbidden by the Muslim religion.
The men summed up their situation by saying, "Their eyes see, but their hands cannot reach," UNICEF said.
Many men said if their daughters were raped, they would have no choice but to deal with it. As husbands, they would care for a child of rape, but would always bear in mind that that was a Janjaweed child and that the identity would be a problem for such a child in the future in their communities.
Unmarried girls were the most affected by sexual violence and some failed to go to clinics or hospitals due to stigma and shame, UNICEF said.
The study's main objectives were to increase humanitarian understanding of how the conflict affected women's and girls' health, it said, to determine the men's perceptions of those consequences, to gain insight into the community's coping mechanisms and to recommend donor action.
In its recommendations, UNICEF highlighted the need for better access to improved, more extensive health care services and increased prevention of and response to sexual violence, including training the police and the military of the Sudanese Government and African Union (AU) peacekeepers.
Refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) need fuel-efficient stoves, community-driven income generation activities, access to education for girls, and community-based psychosocial treatments. In addition, an in-depth investigation needs to be undertaken to examine the barriers to seeking health care and education, it said.