BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A young girl has been raped in an overcrowded evacuation centre in Zamboanga, in the southern Philippines, where there is a high risk of further violence against women and of outbreaks of disease because of the dire conditions, aid agencies and the United Nations say.
Some 120,000 people fled to the city’s main sports stadium and other centres to escape fighting early this month between government forces and fighters of a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in which 132 people have been killed and 10,000 homes in the area destroyed.
The news website Rappler reported that a six-year-old girl had been raped by her uncle inside the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex last week. Some 70,000 people are sheltering at the complex, the biggest evacuation centre in the city, on Mindanao island.
The United Nations has called the continuing displacement of people in Zamboanga “a humanitarian crisis” and said the sports complex is desperately overcrowded and has inadequate sanitation facilities.
There is a high risk of violence against women and children and a lack of security at the complex because of the congestion, the lack of female police officers and absence of privacy, the world body said in its latest situation report.
“Well-lit, segregated latrines and bathing facilities with functioning locks are needed,” it said.
There is a real risk of an outbreak of disease, and a need for food, drinking water, health services, cooking utensils, tents and other necessities, it said in a statement released on Wednesday.
Save the Children raised similar concerns. “Our team, partners and local newspapers on the ground have reported case of rape, attempted rape and child prostitution in recent days, which are simply intolerable," Ariel Balofinos, programme manager for the children's charity in Mindanao, said in a statement released on Thursday.
There is also concern about the equal distribution of humanitarian aid as around 10,500 people are living outside the 33 evacuation centres.
“Displaced people outside the evacuation centres are, generally, not registered and receive insufficient or no humanitarian assistance,” the U.N. report said.
There were reports of selective food distribution at evacuation sites and discrimination against displaced Muslim communities, it added. The MNLF is a Muslim separatist movement operating mainly in the southern Philippines.
“Based on previous experiences, there has frequently been a spike in incidence of protection issues such as gender-based violence and human trafficking in disaster-affected areas,” Tomoo Hozumi, Philippines representative of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told Thomson Reuters Foundation via e-mail.
Zamboanga is known as part of a human trafficking route and the government has been increasing security and strengthening services to protect women and children in evacuation centres, supported by UNICEF, he said.
“This is very important and needs to be continued and further strengthened in the entire affected areas,” he added.