An investigation into sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers sparks a discussion about practicing ethical journalism.
By Thabiso Goba

[02.11.2018: This article initially included several inaccuracies which have been corrected in the copy. We regret the errors and apologise for any inconvenience.]

A CHANCE encounter underneath a tent at a refugee camp on a rainy night in Bangui led to an extensive investigation into alleged sexual abuses by United Nations (UN) peacekeepers.

Inna Lazareva, a freelance journalist from Cameroon, was reporting from temporary camps in the Central African Republic (CAR) on a story about displaced communities fleeing the civil war in 2014, when she met Mary Valentine, a local community organiser.

Nigerian journalist Adie Vanessa Offiong, middle, speaks about child abuse and Boko Haram. Photo: Elizabeth-Jane Ringrose

Lazareva asked Valentine whether she had heard reports of sexual abuses against children by the UN peacekeepers.

“Mary said, ‘Not only have I heard of [the abuse] but I have also seen it’.”

Lazareva was speaking at the session called African Stories: The UN Child Abuse Story, on Monday, October 29, at the African Investigative Journalism Conference (AIJC)2018, running until October 31 at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Following that interaction, Lazareva went on to work on the subject with a number of organisations and in the process interviewed some of the child victims.

“We met a 14-year-old girl who was in a relationship with one of the peacekeepers. She found out she was pregnant and HIV-positive after the soldier was dispatched back home,” she said.

In terms of covering stories in war torn countries, Lazareva said that it’s made possible through a collaboration of people and agencies. She received a grant from the International Women’s Foundation which provided her with hostile environment training, accommodation and security for her first trip to the Central African Republic.

Her colleagues also consulted a child psychologist for knowledge on how to interview abused children and not cause them further harm.

“There is also the issue of anonymity because you are dealing with children and getting permission from their parents to interview them,” Lazareva said.

At the same session, Adie Vanessa Offiong, a reporter for Nigeria’s Daily Trust, spoke about the challenges of covering stories of children affected by militants, Boko Haram.

“One of the troubles is getting consent because most times there is no adult to sign release forms for these children.” she said.

Since reporting on this issue, Lazareva said the impact had been “a mixed bag”. Despite assurances by the United Nations who have since provided some assistance to the victims, some of the abused children had still not received adequate assistance.