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Haiti's President makes promises for women and girls

Early this year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) completed a three-month survey of Haitians made homeless by the earthquake of January 2010.

The IOM’s assessment concluded over 800,000 were still living in temporary campsites or shelters across the country. Most of the campsites have few lights at night and with tents providing little security, there has been a worrying rise in sexual violence.

According to TrustLaw news, police and medical centres have been dealing with an alarming number of women and girls coming forward to report sexual assaults since the earthquake. The police chief of Port-au-Prince said over 600 cases had been reported in 2010. However, the actual number is likely to be much higher, since many victims are too ashamed or frightened to approach the authorities. One doctor at the largest hospital in Haiti said she was currently examining around 15 rape victims each day, compared to only 2 or 3 a year ago.

In some instances, assaults on girls and young women are being used as a tactic of intimidation by landowners who want to remove temporary residents from their land. In other cases, the violence reflects the vulnerability of families living in close proximity and in a setting where women and children have to bathe in public. Young girls and children are also more at risk in the camp environments, with one case reported where a child was lured into a tent to watch television only to be raped by the tent’s occupant.

A forum was recently held by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to bring together government officials, police, lawyers, prosecutors, doctors and representatives of women’s groups to talk about the problem. The forum was designed to give extra momentum to the group’s TrustLaw initiative, which is providing advice on how Haiti can strengthen its anti-rape laws. Haiti’s President-elect, Michel Martelly was one of the attendees and pledged his support to help bring about change.

Mr Martelly said he understood the problem was “very serious” and promised it would be part of his mission to ensure “the rule of law reigns in Haiti [and] that justice is for everybody”. Just one of many changes he would like to see is the presence of a female agent at every police post, so that women reporting cases of sexual violence can be listened to by another female. In the past, women’s groups have accused the police of not taking rape cases seriously and cited instances where male officers have implied the victim was in some way to blame. The leader of the majority party in the Haitian parliament, Joseph Lambert, was also present at the forum. He expressed his solidarity with the work of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and said the country would aim to pass legislation which helped reduce sexual violence against women and children.

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