Are the Peacekeepers keeping Peace?



                                    by Kenneth Bagnell

      Nelson Mandela, one of the most honourable and honoured men of human history, once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” He’s right, but some current revelations of child abuse are so horrible it’s very painful to face them and deal with why they take place. You’ve heard of how very ugly the current revelation is: abuse by poverty stricken children by men serving the UN as “peacekeepers”. They have, in large numbers, been child sexual abusers in horrific ways.

      Some weeks ago, the then UN Secretary, Ban Ki-moon, spoke with personal humiliation and profound anger, telling the assembly of the dreadful news of UN “peacekeepers” and their vile sexual conduct to children in specific regions of the world:  “I come before the security council with a heavy heart and a heavy obligation – the duty to speak to you in clear and forthright terms about a cancer in our system that is doing grave harm to the lives of the people we are meant to protect and serve.” He said this in August, but it did not have much influence and indeed the evidence of sexual abuse got worse. Just one month later, more and more dreadful conduct was revealed by the so-called “peacekeepers” in Central African settings. The later revelation opened the door on four UN peacekeepers who paid girls as young as 13 for sexual activity, paying them –- get ready! — between 50 cents and three dollars. I know, I know, it’s truly horrible.

   But we have to look at it face to face. Mozambique is on the southeast coast of Africa, and is one of the world’s poorest countries, with about 23 million people living in grave poverty. HIV permeates just over 10 percent of the population. The language spoken is Portuguese. All reports convey a country of ruinous nature and a people of poverty, most of them illiterate. It is thereby ripe for the exploitation that the UN has unearthed.

    It didn’t just happen recently. Twenty five years ago, maybe earlier, some of the so-called peacekeepers were sexually assaulting children or exploiting them as prostitutes at a very early age. In the early 1990s, in Mozambique, the so-called peacekeepers had men in their ranks whose efforts were to recruit teenagers as young as 12 for prostitution. It’s relatively easy, since Mozambique culture, despite its Christian foundation, has affirmed the existence of prostitution for years.

     Mozambique is just one of the poorest countries, in which some UN peacekeepers are exploiting for their own sensual if perverted pleasure. It’s no surprise that the government, responsible for oversight, refuses to make the data on prostitution available to the media. A recent credible document said this: “After the arrival of the peacekeepers in 1992, prostitution reached such proportions that the post of mediator was created between the military on the one hand, and pimps and prostitutes on the other.”

     It’s been an ugly chapter in the country’s development. For example, the conviction has grown that the UN peacekeepers, from their first years, have been exploiting the young girls, and thereby confirming for them, the legitimacy of their very questionable vocation. Many of them are said to be at the lower end of the teenage group, most often from 12 to 15. Moreover, virtually 70 percent of the child prostitutes dropped out of school, their main customers being out of the ranks of the UN’s peacekeepers. This has gone on for decades and finally has been exposed for the world to see the decadence in the ranks of UN peacekeepers, men who supposedly were there as not just protectors but exemplary ones. Instead the ranks of the noble peacekeepers have become, as the UN’s then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, put it, “a cancer in our system.”

   What to do? For centuries prostitution has been a plague. There is no positive aspect to it but many negative ones:  it degrades women’s dignity, it’s a gift to pimps, it’s a threat to health, physical, emotional and mental. Its only gift is money to those who exploit women, usually poverty stricken women, or women who are not among the brightest and best. They’re among the weakest. Hence, to me, it’s horrific, that through the United Nations, young girls, some not even in their teens are exploited in ways that will leave a deep and permanent wound in their hearts, their memories , their minds and their character and, worst of all, their self-confidence. It’s a challenge but some governments are trying to get rid of prostitution, one being France, where a cabinet minister, Najat Valloud-Belkacem. She’d fine every man who sought to buy sex, with a $2,000 dollar penalty. Her supporters have taken to the streets to argue that too often violence, and coercive force are part of the process.

     Well, it was interesting the other day when I came upon an opinion on this matter from a man I did not expect. Not long ago, someone –- maybe Donald Trump — made a crude remark in support of prostitution.  Vladimir Putin, of all people, was quick and sharp with a rebuke worth remembering. “Prostitution,” he said, “is a serious, ugly, social phenomenon.  Young women do this because they can’t survive any other way. As for that aspect, it’s society’s problem.” Right on Vladimir — in every way. 



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