Cyclone Idai victims in Mozambique allegedly sexually exploited

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BY IAVAN PIJOOS

Cyclone Idai, the most powerful storm to hit Mozambique in decades, has left women hungry and vulnerable to abuse.

Human Rights Watch reported that some linked to the ruling party, Frelimo, demanded money from people affected by the cyclone in exchange for including their names on the aid distribution list.

Women who had no money were said to have been forced to have sex with local leaders in exchange for a bag of rice.

Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch Dewa Mavhinga said the sexual exploitation of women struggling to feed their families after the cyclone was revolting and cruel, adding that it should be stopped immediately.

“The authorities should promptly investigate reports of women being coerced into exchanging sex for food and appropriately punish anyone using their position of power to exploit and abuse women,” Mavhinga said.

On March 14, the cyclone hit near the coastal city of Beira, leaving tens of thousands of people displaced.

On Thursday, Mozambique was struck again when Cyclone Kenneth battered the northern region.

A spokesman for Mozambique’s National Institute of Disaster Management (INGC), Paulo Tomas, said 30,000 people had been evacuated from the areas likely to be hit by the cyclone.

Tomas said they had supplies to assist 140,000 people for 15 days

According to the UN World Food Programme, one million people were reached with food assistance through the government and the INGC following Cyclone Idai.

A local community leader in the town of Tica, Nhamatanda district, told Human Rights Watch that leaders were responsible for storing and distributing food to families on a weekly basis.

She said “because the food is not enough for everyone”, some local leaders had exploited the situation by charging people to include their names on the distribution lists.

An aid worker said the list often contained the names of men who were the head of  households and excluded families headed by women.

“In some of the villages, women and their children have not seen any food for weeks.

“They would do anything for food, including sleeping with men in charge of the food distribution,” the woman told Human Rights Watch.

A second aid worker said her international organisation had received reports of sexual abuse of women not only in their villages, but also in camps for internally displaced people.

According to Human Rights Watch, three women in the town of Mbimbir, Nhamatanda district, were forced to have sex with officials in exchange for food.

One woman said she had been unable to feed her children for weeks.

When her name was not on the list for food distribution on April 6, a local man, a Frelimo secretary, told the woman to wait at home and he would see her later “to help her if she helped him too”.

The woman told Human Rights Watch that the man later arrived with a bag of rice, a bag of cornflour and one kilo of beans.

“When he arrived, he placed the bags on the floor and started touching his thing [penis], and told me it was now my turn thank him.

“I told my children to go to my friend’s house. When they left, I slept with him,” she said.

Another victim, with four children, said the food given to the father of the household, whose name was on the list, was not enough to feed all of them.

She then spoke to a community leader, who offered to help.

“He said he could help me if I was nice to him.

“We agreed on a time to meet and do the thing [have sex]. When we finished, he gave me only a kilo of beans. When I complained, he said ‘tomorrow there will be more,’ “she said.

Community leaders have denied the allegations.

“The Mozambican authorities have an obligation to ensure that everyone gets the protection they need in this situation, including vulnerable women at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.

“Emergency aid should be given freely to all people in need, and the government, along with aid providers, should ensure that aid distribution is never used as an opportunity to commit abuse,” Mavhinga said.