NAIROBI - Internationally-funded African Union troops in war-torn and impoverished Somalia have raped women and girls as young as 12 and traded food aid for sex, Human Rights Watch said in a damning report Monday.
"Some of the women who were raped said that the soldiers gave them food or money afterwards in an apparent attempt to frame the assault as transactional sex," the HRW report said.
There was no immediate reaction from the AU force AMISOM, whose 22,000 soldiers drawn from six nations have been fighting alongside government troops against the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents since 2007.
The vulnerable women largely came from camps in the capital Mogadishu, having fled rural Somalia during a devastating famine in 2011.
AMISOM donors include the United Nations, European Union, Britain and the United States.
The AU soldiers, "relying on Somali intermediaries, have used a range of tactics, including humanitarian aid, to coerce vulnerable women and girls into sexual activity," the report read, based on testimonies of 21 women and girls.
"They have also raped or otherwise sexually assaulted women who were seeking medical assistance or water at AMISOM bases."
The youngest interviewed was aged just 12, who said she was raped by a Ugandan soldier.
Several of the women described how they had gone to the AU camp seeking medicine for their sick babies.
"The findings raise serious concerns about abuses by AMISOM soldiers against Somali women and girls that suggest a much larger problem," HRW added.