Sexual violence is increasingly a characteristic of conflict and is often perpetrated against girls and boys in a rule of law vacuum. In some instances sexual violence has been used as a tactic of war designed to humiliate a population or to force displacement.
Children who experience sexual violence suffer from long-term psychological trauma, health consequences including transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS and early pregnancies. Their reintegration is even a greater challenge as communities often stigmatize girls who have been associated with armed groups and are suspected of having been raped.
Young mothers of babies born of rape often stay with the armed group because of the family ties and dependency that have evolved over time and to avoid social stigma in the communities at home. These girls and their children are particularly vulnerable to all forms of exploitation including prostitution and trafficking and need special protection.
Sexual violence and boys
Boys are also victims of sexual violence in conflict. For example, in Afghanistan the practice of Baccha Baazi (dancing boys), remains a widespread phenomenon. It is a form of sexual slavery and child prostitution in which boys are sold to wealthy or powerful men, including military and political leaders for entertainment and sexual activities.
Another aspect that tends to be underestimated is the trauma boys face as witnesses or perpetrators of sexual violence. They may be forced to commit rapes either directly by their commander or indirectly through peer pressure.
Prohibition under International Law
Rape and other forms of sexual violence against children are human rights violations, and may amount to grave breaches of international humanitarian law. If committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population, sexual violence can constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Under Security Council resolution 1882 (2009), the Council designated sexual violence committed against children as a critical priority and called on parties to armed conflict to prepare and implement action plans to address the violation. Sexual violence is also a trigger for the Secretary-General’s list of shame of parties to conflict committing grave violations against children in armed conflict.