Women and Girls in Darfur Raped, Jailed, Fined
Age, March 14, 2005
By Katharine Houreld
16, a rape victim in Darfur, Sudan, holds her two-month-old son Hamoudi,
wrapped in a donated blanket. The clothes she is wearing are her only
possessions. Fatima is the other woman.
Photo: Katharine Houreld
Fatima was just 15 when she was gang-raped in front of
her mother. Seven months later, by then heavily pregnant, the schoolgirl was
arrested by the Sudanese police and charged with fornication.
They threatened to whip Fatima if she didn’t pay a
fine, exploiting her forced pregnancy to turn her into the victim of an
extortion racket. “They asked me who was the father of my baby,” Fatima
remembered, twisting a piece of paper between her fingers. “I told them that
I didn’t know. There were seven men on horses. Three of them raped me and
four of them beat my mother. We had gone to get onions from our farm.”
The police threw Fatima in prison in Bendisi, western
Sudan, while her family tried to scrape together the 20,000 dinar ($A98)
fine—a large sum in a country where the average annual wage is only 100,000
dinars. She spent three days with no food, sleeping on bare earth before her
father managed to collect 12,000 dinars from relatives and pay it last week.
He is still trying to find the rest.
“The police said he must pay it by the time my baby is
delivered or I will be whipped,” Fatima said.
Thousands of women and girls have been raped since 2003,
when local tribes in Darfur took up arms in protest at what they perceived to
be neglect and discrimination by Sudan’s Government in Khartoum.
Many of the rape victims have been branded to ensure that
they never escape the stigma. Most identify their attackers simply as “Janjaweed”,
a generic term for the nomadic, Arabic-speaking gunmen who often work with the
Sudanese armed forces.
Medecins Sans Frontieres has treated nearly 400 rape
victims in Darfur in the past six months but believes the number of victims is
far higher. Many are too ashamed or frightened to report what happened.
The women, many of whom are on their own—their houses
having been destroyed and their relatives killed—are charged with having
extramarital sex even though under Islamic law, a woman who is raped is not
considered guilty of a crime.
“Rape is being used as a deliberate way to fragment the
family and community,” said one aid worker, speaking on condition of
anonymity. “Many of these women are raped by soldiers and police as well (as
An 18-year-old woman is huddled in a corner at an
charity-run medical clinic as she remembers the police threats.
“They told me that I could pay 15,000 dinars or I could
be raped 40 times,” she said. “They will take my money now but they never
heard my cry when the Janjaweed came for me.”
Other women claimed that police officers had raped them
while in prison, promising shorter sentences or smaller fines.
Sixteen-year-old Hawa, who was gang-raped by three men
while collecting firewood, cradles her two-month-old son Hamoudi in a ragged
green blanket. Her shawl has several holes in it and it is her only
possession. She is sleeping rough after her grandmother threw her out because
she was pregnant.
“The police held me for 10 days in a cell. They
didn’t give me any food and there was nowhere to sleep,” she whispered,
tucking the blanket around her sleeping son.
“I told them I have no money. They whipped me on my
chest and my back. I was bleeding a lot.”
She was eight months pregnant, and terrified. She was
freed from prison but the police are still demanding 20,000 dinars.
Some officials at least are aware of the police practice.
When a judge visited from Garsila, a nearby town where similar cases have been
reported, he allegedly warned officers to stop recording women’s names in
case the list should be used as evidence against them.
But the arrests, the fines and the whippings continue.
“Who will want to marry me now?” asked Fatima, her eyes filling with
tears. “Maybe an old man, more than 50. I am destroyed. I have lost my
chance in life.”
Last week UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the
Security Council that action had to be taken to end “appalling” crimes in
western Darfur. “We keep getting reports which show that the killing and
raping and burning is still going on,” he said. Mr Annan urged the 15-member
council to pass a resolution imposing sanctions on those who block peace moves
More than 200,000 people are believed to have lost their
lives in the two-year conflict.
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