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Researchers Say U.N. Peacekeepers Fathered And Left Behind Children In Haiti

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A new report by Canadian and British researchers finds that U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti have left behind numerous children, children who were born after the soldiers had traded small amounts of money or a single meal for sex with Haitian women and girls - some as young as 11 years old.

Peacekeepers were stationed in Haiti from 2004 to 2017 as part of a mission to stabilize the country following an earthquake and hurricane. The mothers now have to raise their children with little support in what the World Bank calls the poorest country in this hemisphere.

Dr. Susan Bartels of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario coauthored the report and joins us now. Dr. Bartels, thanks so much for being with us.

SUSAN BARTELS: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Do you know the numbers?

BARTELS: The purpose of our research wasn't to actually count the numbers of children fathered by peacekeepers but rather to gather perspectives of local community members about how women and girls in the community interacted with peacekeepers. We have 265 narratives that happened to be about children fathered by peacekeepers. We did not ask about sexual relations, and we didn't ask for stories about children born as a result of sexual relations.

SIMON: The 265 that you mentioned, this came out of interviews with 2,500 Haitians?

BARTELS: Correct. There were a larger number of stories certainly about sexual interactions. Some were consensual with adult Haitian women. Some were clearly violent rapes. Many were transactional sex and their sexual exploitation. So there were many more stories about sex between peacekeepers and abuse of power.

SIMON: Let me understand this. These are - for the most part, we're talking about children who have been abandoned by the men who were responsible.

BARTELS: Correct. It seems from the data that we've collected that when the pregnancy became recognized, in almost all cases, the U.N.'s response was to repatriate the implicated soldier. And from the perspectives of the women and girls who were affected and of their family members and community members, this really seemed to be to their detriment because they were no longer able to be in touch with the father of the child. They were no longer able to access support.

SIMON: And to be clear, when you say repatriate, your mean send them back.

BARTELS: Exactly. Send them back to their home country, which is also hugely problematic from the sense that justice in the case of crimes cannot be achieved after repatriation.

SIMON: What else did your report find?

BARTELS: Our report really highlighted how the extensive and pervasive poverty in Haiti contributes to many of the interactions between local women and girls and peacekeepers. So these are women and girls who are trying to meet their basic survival needs or trying to pay school fees. And so it's that very poverty that leads them to engage in transactional sex.

In the cases of those women and girls who then conceive children, their poverty is exacerbated because they're left with the financial demands of raising a child alone.

SIMON: Has the U.N. made any response? Have they tried to fulfill responsibilities?

BARTELS: The U.N. has a mechanism through which paternity claims can be lodged. And we know that a number of women and girls in Haiti have gone through this process. No one that we spoke to had been able to successfully prove paternity.

SIMON: But to prove paternity, they would - what? - have to get DNA tests or something?

BARTELS: Exactly. And a number of women - mothers have brought their children forward for paternity testing. And some of the narratives indicated that they've waited, you know, two years for the results of the paternity tests, which have not been released by the U.N.

SIMON: So the women are invited to participate in a legal process that is difficult and prolonged and doesn't seem to lead anywhere.

BARTELS: Exactly. And it's full of bureaucratic delays. And some of these women, certainly not all of them, but some of these women are coming from rural areas of Haiti without much access to education, with lower literacy skills and trying to navigate the U.N. system is probably nearly impossible.

SIMON: Dr. Bartels, I'm sure you've ran this through your own mind. On the balance, do the U.N. mission help Haiti or take advantage of Haiti?

BARTELS: I think it's important to note that there were positive stories. The U.N. improved security or - you know, financially our community was better off, but they raped our women and girls. The juxtaposition was very stark.

SIMON: Dr. Susan Bartels, her research has been published on the independent non-partisan website, The Conversation. Doctor, thank you so much for being with us.

BARTELS: Thank you.

SIMON: And we'll note that NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Haiti now and spoke about this with U.N. representative Fernando Hiraldo Del Castillo.

FERNANDO HIRALDO DEL CASTILLO: The U.N. has a system to make sure that responsibilities are found and that all cases are followed.

SIMON: He said the U.N. has received 116 allegations of exploitation and abuse, including from 26 women, about 32 children possibly fathered by U.N. forces.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.