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Girls 'assaulted' as sexual violence rips through Sudan

'Targeted for their gender, their ethnicity and their vulnerability': Young girls 'raped and assaulted' as sexual violence rips through Sudan
5 min read
26 July, 2023
Girls as young as 12 are facing sexual and gender-based violence in Sudan as a result of the escalating conflict, with incidents of rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation.

Teenage girls are being sexually assaulted and raped by armed combatants in Sudan in alarming numbers, with many survivors aged between 12 and 17 years old, a leading children's organisation has said. 

The children make up some of the cases of sexual and gender-based violence as a result of the escalating conflict, with incidents of rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation being reported by women and girls who have fled the conflict in Khartoum and other areas.

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While sexual violence is understood to be rampant, only 88 cases of rape as a result of the conflict have been verified, said Save the Children.

This includes at least 42 alleged cases in the capital, Khartoum, and 46 in the Darfur region. However, according to the Sudanese Unit for Combating Violence against Women, a government unit, this figure likely represents 2% of the total cases – meaning there have been a possible 4,400 cases of sexual violence in 11 weeks alone.

Some survivors are arriving in neighbouring countries pregnant as a result of rape, according to UNHCR. There have also been reports of girls being kidnapped and held for days while being sexually assaulted, and of gang rapes of girls and women.

“Sexual violence continues to be used as a tool to terrorise women and children in Sudan. We know that the official numbers are only the tip of the iceberg. Children as young as 12 are being targeted for their gender, for their ethnicity, for their vulnerability," said Arif Noor, Country Director for Save the Children in Sudan.

Save the Children staff are also reporting that some children are being targeted specifically for their ethnicity as well as their gender, with concerns about children travelling alone, who will be at much higher risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.

The war erupted on 15 April between Sudan's army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), entering its 100th day on Sunday. This period has seen much havoc in Khartoum, escalated ethnic violence in Darfur and the displacement of over three million people.

The war, which pits army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, commander of the paramilitary RSF, saw aid agencies report an increasing number of civilian casualties.

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled) said that out of 320 "political-violence events" in Sudan, almost 80 targeted civilians, resulting in over 220 deaths.

More than 3,000 people have died and 6,000 have been injured since 15 April, including at least 330 children killed and 1,900 injured, according to Sudan's Ministry of Health. However, aid workers and witnesses say many bodies have been uncounted. In addition, an increasing number of children are at risk of child recruitment and association with armed groups.

The targeting of civilians has also led to a mass exodus to neighbouring countries and internal displacement, with the UN estimating 200,000 people displaced in one week alone, based on data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The UNHCR reports that nearly 800,000 people have fled to neighbouring nations.

The fertile land between the White Nile and the Blue Nile rivers now hosts several hundred thousand of the estimated 3.3 million people the war has displaced.

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International donors have pledged almost $1.5 billion in aid to address the crisis, but humanitarian agencies asserted that double that amount may be needed to stabilise the situation.

However, even before fighting broke out on 15 April, more than three million women and girls in Sudan were already at risk of gender-based violence, and this number has since climbed to an estimated 4.2 million people.

Sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war against children to terrorise them, spread fear and intimidation for political and military gain, ethnically cleanse or humiliate an ethnic group, or punish civilians for suspected support of opposing forces.

The trauma it inflicts can have long-lasting physical, psychological, social, and economic effects. The brutality of the physical act itself can be especially damaging for children whose bodies aren’t fully developed.

Girls might suffer uterine prolapses, fistula, and other injuries to their reproductive system, and face complications and death due to early pregnancy and unsafe abortions. Both girls and boys risk urinary and anal damage, and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases that, left untreated, can cause long-term harm and even death.

“We run six mobile health clinics providing primary health care services for displaced populations, but unfortunately, we are encountering frequent cases of women affected by sexual violence during our consultations and are doing our best to support them," said Sara Abdelrazig, Save the Children’s Head of Implementation in North Kordofan.

The eruption of fighting comes as Sudan was already facing its worst-ever humanitarian crisis with existing conflict, natural disasters, disease outbreaks and economic degradation already leaving 15.8 million people in need.

“Mothers have told Save the Children staff in displacement camps that one of their reasons for fleeing their homes is concerns for their personal safety and that of their girls," Arif Noor added. "We have also heard parents who are making the agonising decision to marry their daughters at a young age, in an attempt to 'shield' them from further risks of sexual violence, assault or exploitation. This is a hideous and terrifying situation for girls to be in.”