French soldiers accused of filming abuse of five-year-old girl

Two French soldiers accused of child sexual abuse in Burkina Faso were suspended yesterday as a campaigner says abuse by French peacekeeping forces is "pervasive" and treated as "business as usual".

The French defence ministry said yesterday the soldiers are suspected of "engaging in acts of a sexual nature with two children", one of which reportedly includes filming themselves abusing a five-year-old girl. The footage was later found by the girl's father.

French military police are travelling to the west African country today to begin investigations in conjunction with their local counterparts.

In April leaked UN report detailed allegations of sexual abuse of 10 children by 16 French peacekeepers working alongside the UN in the Central African Republic (CAR) between December 2013 and June 2014.

Some 3,000 French soldiers are stationed in five countries in the region - the others being Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Niger - as part of anti-terrorism operations.

The UN, which has about 125,000 peacekeepers deployed around the world, has come under increased scrutiny over allegations of child sex abuse committed by soldiers under its auspices.

A draft report by the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services, which is due to be released this month, said that peacekeepers frequently engaged in "transactional sex" where deprived citizens in poor countries such as Haiti agreed to sex in exchange for food and medication.

Paula Donovan, co-founder of the advocacy group AIDS-Free World which is demanding an independent inquiry into the UN's handling of such abuse, told Newsweek that the problem is endemic and not even shocking to military leaders anymore.

"It's more a case of 'boys will be boys'," says Donovan, who worked for the UN's children's agency Unicef throughout the 1990s.

"This is so pervasive that it's not dealt with and when it gets to the point where soldiers feel they can take videos of themselves sexually abusing a child and are careless enough to leave the camera behind, then you know this is just standard operating procedure, business as usual."

As a result of the CAR report, 14 French soldiers are now under investigation for the alleged sexual abuse of minors at a centre for displaced people in the capital Bangui.

Donovan says that the French military must act quickly and decisively to stamp out the problem but suggests there is a wider issue at stake.

"We would be foolish to assume that this was some unique problem which only affects the French military. It's a worldwide problem," she says.

The total number of sexual abuse allegations against UN peacekeepers was 51 in 2014, down from 66 the year before.