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Photo: The Guardian

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege – activists and campaigners against sexual violence, especially in the context of war. ECPAT whole-heartedly congratulates both winners and applauds the committee’s decision.

Dr. Mukwege is a gynaecologist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who has treated and advocated on behalf of thousands of victims of sexual exploitation and abuse – often committed by soldiers. Ms. Murad is an Iraqi survivor of trafficking, torture and sexual violence at the hands of Daesh (ISIS) who has since gone on to become a campaigner against rape and the oppression of her ethnic group – the Yazidi people.

At a time when sexual violence is at the top of the news cycle in many countries, awarding these two courageous individuals the Nobel Peace Prize will help to publicize the issue even more on the public stage.

The sexual exploitation of children in war and armed conflict

Their accolades come at a time when we are seeing unprecedented instability and displacement as a result of conflict. UNHCR says that around the world there are currently almost 70 million people who have been forced to leave their homes because of violence or war, with more than half of refugees under the age of 18.

This award highlights just how conflict and sexual violence are intertwined. And sadly it is often children who are the victims. Humanitarian crises always create challenging situations for those who want to protect children as the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse dramatically increases in these contexts. For example, in recent years we have seen evidence of shocking levels of sexual violence against boys and girls coming from Syria; increased rates of child and forced marriage among girls in refugee camps; sexual exploitation of child refugees from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia trying to make their way across Europe; and in Bangladesh, the trafficking of Rohingya girls in refugee camps for the purpose of sexual exploitation, with some Rohingya children being sexually exploited as far away as Malaysia.

Ending sexual violence and protecting those that are most vulnerable is vital to peace. The Nobel Committee has seized the opportunity to remind us of this fact through its choice of winners for this year’s peace prize.