U.N. Says Peacekeepers Paid 50 Cents for Sex With Young Girls in the Central African Republic: Report

car central african republic un peacekeepers_0112
U.N. peacekeepers stand guard as citizens line up to cast their ballots at a polling center during the presidential election in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, on December 30, 2015. U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic paid as little as 50 cents for sex with girls as young as 13, according to a report from The Washington Post, the latest in a barrage of claims that allege peacekeepers have sexually abused and exploited vulnerable people in the country. Media Coulibaly/Reuters

Just one week after the United Nations announced it was investigating new allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, The Washington Post reported that some peacekeepers there paid 50 cents in exchange for sex with girls as young as 13.

Citing U.N. officials, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that U.N. peacekeepers from Gabon, Morocco, Burundi and France used a prostitution ring run by "boys and young men" in M'Poko, an internally displaced persons camp near the international airport in the capital city of Bangui. One official said the men charged between 50 cents and $3 for sex with the girls.

However, officials added that because there's no official U.N. presence in the camp, and many cases could have gone unreported, the rate of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers could be much higher.

A country of 4.6 million, the Central African Republic has been mired in conflict since 2013, when Muslim rebels from the armed Seleka group overthrew the government in the majority Christian country, leading to violent clashes with the anti-balaka Christian groups. Late last year, the country held elections to replace the transitional government, seen as a welcome indicator of stability in the war-torn nation, although the majority of candidates alleged fraud and asked authorities to cease counting votes earlier this month.

In December, a report from New York–based group Human Rights Watch documented nine cases of sexual abuse in and around the M'Poko camp, which is home to around 20,000 internally displaced people. The report urged government authorities and U.N. peacekeepers to "improve protection for women and girls and hold to account those responsible."

"It seems like is there a problem of there being structures that have been set up in the camp. Who the contingents are isn't the point," a U.N. peacekeeping official tells Newsweek. "The point is that peacekeepers and other international forces know that you can go there for this stuff. It's like a market."

The U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) announced earlier this month that it was investigating fresh claims of misconduct, including sexual abuse and exploitation, by U.N. peacekeepers and other international forces in Bangui. MINUSCA said that staff with UNICEF, the U.N. children's fund, visited four children who were alleged victims of abuse in Bangui. There are now 26 allegations against U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.

MINUSCA has "assembled and dispatched a joint protection team consisting of human rights and child protection personnel along with UNICEF, to the M'poko IDP camp in Bangui to assist with victim support," a U.N. peacekeeping official tells Newsweek. "In the course of interviews conducted by this team in the camp, the mission has learnt of additional allegations, which have been referred for full investigation."

The mission has said it "continues to investigate each and every allegation of misconduct" and is putting uniformed and civilian patrols in at-risk areas. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the ongoing allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers "a cancer in our system" this past August.