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UN Peacekeeper DRC Kids Stigmatized

FILE: Representative illustration of DRC schoolchildren in the capital, Kinshasa. Taken August 10, 2020

UN Peacekeeping force MONUSCO's code of conduct strictly prohibits sexual relations with children, as well as paying for sex. The situation is common enough for the UN mission to introduce measures such as paying school fees for the abandoned children of UN soldiers.

Masika said she met a South African peacekeeper when she was selling peanuts near a UN base at age 15.

"He was a handsome guy, a giant," the now 29-year-old woman recalled, adding the soldier had given her some money.

Masika said she resisted the South African's attempts to court her for months, but finally gave in. By the time she'd discovered she was pregnant, he had left the country.

The liaison left Masika "the object of rejection in society," she explained, adding that her 14-year-old daughter Catherine thankfully fits in locally because she is black.

MONUSCO also pays for the child's school fees.

"The only problem is that she often asks me where her father is, and I don't have an answer," Masika said.

Sifa, 27, also said she fell pregnant by a South African peacekeeper, while she was 14 years old working in a small restaurant in Kavumu airport.

He had also disappeared home by the time she found out she was expecting, leaving Sifa to face stigma at home.

Her daughter, Grace, is not in school because MONUSCO isn't paying the fees. Sifa said she never followed the procedure to officially declare the pregnancy.

"They didn't put me on the list of beneficiaries," she told AFP.

Zawadi Bazilyane, the head of an NGO working on peacekeeper paternity cases, said it is often difficult to establish paternity since many of the women don't know the real identity of their lovers.

Bazilyane explained that her team had identified 11 children in Kavumu allegedly fathered by peacekeepers. Two of the children have since died, and the remaining nine are all teenagers.

The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world, where about 70 percent of the population of over 90 million people lives on under $2 a day.

Women officially recognized by MONUSCO as having given birth to children fathered by peacekeepers receive child support in the form of school fees, as well as training in trades such as sewing for themselves.

A MONUSCO spokesperson said that all allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers are "dealt with quickly," but admitted that many paternity cases remained unresolved.

Children born from sexual abuse cases also often face stigma, the spokesman also said.

There have been no recorded cases of sexual abuse in Kavumu or nearby villages since 2013, the spokesperson said.

The total number of babies peacekeepers fathered across eastern DR Congo is unclear. But 63 children are receiving school assistance, according to MONUSCO, while 158 women have benefited from UN-funded projects since 2018.

Faida, who had already had six children before she gave birth to Chance, said she hopes the UN will support her daughter through to university and help her get a job. Life is harder for Chance in many ways, her mother explained.

"She's not adapting to life in the village," Faida said, noting that her fair skin sets her apart.

None of the women AFP spoke to said they had been abused. But some were between the ages of 14 and 15 when they developed relationships with peacekeepers, and described exchanging sex for money or other small gifts.