Teenage girls are being sexually assaulted and raped by armed combatants in “alarming numbers,” Save the Children said in a statement on Friday, while the United Nations reported a “marked increase” in gender-based violence.
The war that erupted on April 15 pits Sudan’s army against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which fell out over plans for a political transition toward civilian rule. Fighting has been concentrated in the capital Khartoum and the western region of Darfur.
While dozens of cases of rape resulting from the conflict have been verified, the Sudanese government’s Combating Violence Against Women (CVAW) unit estimates that figure may represent just 2% of the total.
“We know that the official numbers are only the tip of the iceberg. Children as young as 12 are being targeted for their gender, for their ethnicity, for their vulnerability,” Save the Children’s Sudan director Arif Noor said in a statement.
Some parents were marrying off their daughters at a young age to try to protect them from further abuse, he said.
There have also been reports of girls being held for days while being sexually assaulted, and gang rapes of women and girls.
“Health care providers, social workers, counselors and community-based protection networks inside Sudan have all warned of a marked increase in reports of gender-based violence as hostilities continue across the country,” United Nations agencies said in a joint statement this week.
“Reporting violations and getting support is also made difficult, if not impossible, by the lack of electricity and connectivity, as well as lack of humanitarian access due to the volatile security situation.”
CVAW also reported an escalation in cases of abduction of women and girls, especially in Khartoum, citing several recent cases for which it said RSF fighters were responsible.
The RSF has not directly addressed accusations of assault and sexual violence by its fighters but has said that those who commit abuses will be held to account.
The U.N. estimates 4.2 million people are at risk of gender-based violence, up from 3 million before the conflict started in mid-April. Sudan has a population of 49 million.
The U.N. said the risk was especially high when women and girls were on the move, seeking to reach safe locations.
More than 2.9 million people have been uprooted by Sudan’s conflict, including nearly 700,000 who have fled into neighboring countries.
Some women are arriving pregnant as a result of rape, according to the U.N. refugee agency.