Jane, wearing a yellow shirt, stands next to her three sisters.

News / International Day of the Girl

The Brutal Reality of Sexual Violence Survivors in Refugee Settlements in Uganda

Jane* fled South Sudan for Uganda with her three sisters last year. Armed forces threatened her family and Jane’s parents sent their children away knowing their lives were in danger. It took them five days to reach Uganda’s Imvepi refugee settlement. A few days later, Jane, 17, found out her parents had been killed.

“I miss my parents but I’m glad we left the people with the guns behind,” she says.

At Imvepi, however, she still is not safe. Her family was connected to government forces in South Sudan, which poses a threat to her and her sisters’ lives. Shortly after their arrival at Imvepi, Jane and her sisters were attacked in the middle of the night in the refugee settlement by a group of about 15 men.

They told us we should have just let them kill us.

“They shouted that they wanted to kill us and that this would be the last time for us to see the light,” Jane says. “And then they touched us… .”

It was the third time they’d been attacked since arriving. They received little empathy when they told others in the camp about the incident.

“They told us we should have just let them kill us,” she says.

4million

people have been forced to flee because of the conflict in South Sudan

South Sudan declared independence in 2011. Seven years later, the country is ravaged by fighting, severe hunger, mass displacement, and accusations of war crimes by government and opposition forces. Nearly 4 million people have been forced to flee because of the conflict.

Imvepi currently hosts more than 100,000 refugees, almost three times the number of locals in the area. Of the 1.3 million refugees in Uganda, over 1 million are South Sudanese and over 85 percent are women and children in real danger of sexual and physical violence, with many reporting incidents of violence on their brutal journey.

Upon arrival in the refugee settlements in Uganda, underage children are immediately located and matched with a foster family within two to three days. But many of them decide to leave and fall back under the risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Too often they end up trading sex for money – earning as little as 2,000 Ugandan Shillings (1 USD) per exchange. CARE holds awareness-raising sessions on sexual and reproductive health with unaccompanied minors to highlight the risks and prevent threats of sexual violence.

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“We cannot provide survivors of sexual and gender-based violence with support to heal from their trauma, but at the same time be unable to meet their basic needs, forcing them into selling their bodies for survival,” says Delphine Pinault, CARE Uganda’s Country Director.

Jane’s life has changed dramatically since leaving home. As the eldest, she has to take care of her younger sisters. Food usually runs out before they receive their next ration. Every day, she wakes up to pray, prepares breakfast for her sisters and goes to Imvepi’s reception center to help out other refugees fleeing South Sudan. She has not gone back to school. Her trauma and fear of being attacked on the way to school is too great. Eventually, she wants to become an accountant or teacher and move closer to a city to feel safer.

CARE has built a shelter for Jane and her sisters close to the settlement’s police station to help protect her from further attacks. The shelter and the girls’ caretaker, Albert, help Jane and her sisters feel safer. It gives her hope for a better life.

“Only if peace in South Sudan lasts for more than 10 years, I would trust my country to be safe enough to move back,” Jane says.

*Name has been changed

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