Ebola survivors in Liberia say they are being sexually harassed and abused by men despite the risks of the disease, reveals a research by child rights organisation Plan International.
The report by Plan entitled ‘Young Lives on Lockdown: The impact of Ebola on children and communities in Liberia’, shows that sexual exploitation is a risk for girls and women left vulnerable after losing their parents or partners to Ebola. Various factors such as being away from their immediate carers, and rising poverty and being out of education are all compounding their situation.
Women in Bomi, a county in Liberia that has been seriously hit by the virus outbreak, say that men are harassing female Ebola survivors for sex despite the risks. If women do not consent, the men turn to rape.
Mary and Ariana (not their real names) both lost their husbands to Ebola and now work as psychosocial counsellors after surviving the disease.
They have both been drugged by men and were victims of attempted rape.
‘We are being harassed every day,’ said Ariana. ‘Men see us as vulnerable and think because our husbands are not here any more, they can do whatever they want.’
Doctors advise Ebola survivors to abstain from sex or use condoms to avoid infecting others for at least three months.
But according to both Mary and Ariana, men are still pursuing them for sex.
‘Since our husbands died of Ebola and we survived, we decided to live alone and find something to do,’ said Mary.
‘We found employment with the local Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU), which hired us as psychosocial counsellors.’
The women now offer psychosocial support to patients, children and survivors.
Mothers especially express fears that their teenage girls are roaming around in the community and may become pregnant.
“My children are not even in school. I am greatly worried about the girls. Some will soon involve themselves in teenage pregnancy,” said one mother interviewed for the research.
“Our children are out selling in the community, helping their family to get food,” said another community member. “Some of the younger girls will soon start prostitution, because we can’t control the children if we can’t provide for them.”
Plan Liberia Bomi County Programme Manager, Alphan Kabba, said: “In some cases, the treatment of women is inhumane.
“Plan Liberia continues to scale up its operations to give more psychosocial support to Ebola survivors, including girls, and continues to educate young women in their rights as well as provide safe spaces for women and girls to report violence.
“We are responding to this emergency by building more capacity in this area, but we need more financial and human resources.”
Nigel Chapman, CEO of Plan International, said: “The impact of emergencies on girls is well-known – as the primary care givers, it is often girls who suffer and lose out most during a crisis like this, and girls are always the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse.”