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UN official: Syrian women seek abortions and suffer rapes because of war

By Jane Onyanga-Omara | USA Today (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 5, 2016

LONDON (Tribune News Service) — The ravages of Syria's civil war include an increase in women who are having abortions and suffering injuries consistent with rape, a top United Nations official said this week.

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, also said girls are being married off so their families can pass responsibility for them to somebody else. He based his information on reports from medical facilities that work with the U.N. and focus groups.

"We want the world to know that in conflict, the most vulnerable and the ones who suffer most are women and girls," Osotimehin told USA TODAY here, ahead of Thursday's conference where 70 world leaders pledged a record $10 billion to help Syrians displaced by the nearly 5-year-old war.

The U.N. fund wants the donor nations to increase support for these women's issues.

"All too often people don't put money there. Either they put money to food security, to shelter, to water sanitation," he said. "But the dignity, the welfare and the security of women is something that doesn't play out at all."

He noted that more pregnant Syrian women are choosing to have cesarean sections, while others have to give birth without any medical help, because of the uncertain conditions.

"Within Syria, we noticed that the rates of cesarean sections have gone up to about 50 percent, so that implies that women are choosing to have C-sections because they're not sure of what's going to happen," Osotimehin said.

Pregnant women stranded on the border between Syria and Jordan have no facilities to give birth, so kits are provided for them to give birth themselves, according to the group.

Yifat Susskind, executive director of MADRE, a nonprofit women's rights organization, said it joined forces with women's groups in Syria to provide health care and schooling, and help refugee women get access to basic social services.

"This war and growing refugee crisis have triggered a cascade of deadly threats against Syrian women and girls, from displacement and starvation to widespread rape and forced marriage," Susskind said. "But Syrian women are more than victims. They are mobilizing urgent solutions that are deeply informed by their knowledge of on-the-ground conditions for war-torn communities."

An estimated 500,000 pregnant Syrian women remain in the war-torn country or are in nearby nations, Osotimehin said. More than 4 million Syrians have fled their country, with women and children making up three-quarters of the refugees.

The International Rescue Committee said 9.7 million Syrian women and children need help.

The U.N. Refugee Agency reported last month that 2.1 million refugees are registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon; 1.9 million in Turkey and more than 26,700 in North Africa. At least 7.6 million people were displaced within Syria in July 2015.

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