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04/12/2013

The right step towards protecting children from rape in war

A cautious welcome from aid agencies working in war zones following the announcement by Foreign Minister John Baird that Canada will give $5 million this year to prevent sexual violence in conflict and help victims. The news came at Thursday's G8 foreign ministers meeting in London where member states committed a total of $36 million to the crisis.

Save the Children's Cicely McWilliam called it an "important first step" and said protecting children should be at the forefront of G8's humanitarian response to war. Up to 80 per cent of sexual violence victims in conflict are children, a recent report by the agency stated. 

World Vision's Jonathan Papoulidis said he was "encouraged" by Baird's announcement but wanted more details about how the money would be spent. Canada should fund initiatives that establish a minimum set of protection standards for children during war, he added.  

"These minimum standards do things like ensure there are enough sexual violence protection workers and programs in conflict zones to protect and help children,” he said. 

War Child also welcomed the funding news. But the charity warned in a report earlier this week that there was a risk sexual violence was being narrowly defined as a women's and legal issue. Rape affected men, women, girls and boys - and it was endemic in conflict, it said.  

"Once the veil of ignorance is lifted, through simple enquiry, the extent and brutality of sexual violence in conflict areas is so shocking that it requires us to ask fundamental questions about our understanding of humanitarian needs, and the purpose of our presence in conflict zones," Rob Williams, the charity's chief executive, said in the report.  

READ MORE: Children in conflict zones often face sexual violence

READ MORE: Syrian women speak of horrific rapes 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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