By Mugisho Theophile, Co-founder and Executive Director of COFAPRI. November 2014.
Healing Wounded Souls
COFAPRI members continue to meet the first and last Sunday of every month. Children of mothers who are members, are keen to speak about the hurdles they must overcome in their lives in the rural DR Congo. Those ideas shared here, which we received from the field coordinators, are truly heartfelt.
Our country, the DR Congo, is still experiencing numerous problems due to insecurity, mostly in the villages where it seems that no one cares about us. This insecurity is not only on the land, it is also within our hearts. We wonder what tomorrow will bring. The chaos of the 1990’s is still killing us today. We are dying little by little as our families have become unable to cope with our daily situation.
Extreme poverty is our reality in the DR Congo and the children do not have access to a school education. This situation has become very chronic. In the villages where COFAPRI operates, school-age children stay at home, either dealing with rudimentary cultivation, or keeping cows and goats in the bush. Others have become hunters, preventing them from attending school and damaging the ecosystem as well. Aged between 5 and 14, both girls and boys, most of these children are orphans of war, or born of raped mothers.
Children Born of Rape
Cikuru*, age 12, was born of rape. Now orphaned, his mother was twice raped and then died of the wounds after he was born:
“You can see many children who are beaten because they are accused of being either witches or wizards, as they have no parents and sometimes no families to defend their cases. Their mothers have been raped and as a result they are expelled from the families and so they abandon their children or they died due to AIDS from rape. Those children’s age is under 15 and majority have lost one or both parents to AIDS or effects of rape.
All these children suffer a lot; they lack sufficient access to education, food, shelter and medical assistance. Due to such situation, they are regularly sufferers of sexual violence and abuse outside or inside the home. This is what causes them to meet in the streets and there they can tell you from their mouths how they are often hunted down, attacked, brutalized, beaten or arrested by security agents such as the military and police.”.
Vulnerable Street Children
In the cities, where these children have no cows to keep and no land to cultivate, they pour onto the streets, becoming street children and a social burden as they become pickpockets, thieves and even highway bandits. This increases insecurity, which is already tragic. The girls become involved in untimely sexuality, without considering the dangers of HIV/AIDS and other STDs [sexually transmitted diseases].
Statistics on DR Congo are alarming. According to the Relief Web (2001), more than 10,000 children live on the streets of Bukavu, and between 15,000 and 20,000 in Kinshasa, the capital city of the DR Congo. These large numbers of children are the cause of parents’ extreme poverty. Together with forced displacement, spawned by the different wars the country has been experiencing since 1996, those families that relocated during the wars have caused many children to be abandoned to their fate.
Alphonse*, also age 12 - was born of rape. A kind man married his mother and took on the role of step-father - but this gentleman was then murdered by militia.
“We the children in the villages of this country have been victims in different contexts and the world is just watching. We have been beaten and sometimes refused food in our homes. We have been denied rights to school education. We have been raped and our brothers forced to rape our sisters or mothers in our presence; we have been morally damaged. We have been taken sexual hostages. We have seen our parents and brothers being molested to death in our eyes. We have been forced to join the militia and today we can feel lonely, covered by shame and hatred of those we’d call parents and relatives. This is due to the wars. This is our fate!“
Many did not choose the streets, selecting instead to join, or be forcibly recruited by, the guerillas as they wander in the villages and cities. Others were abducted from schools. This explains how the villages, and the country, supply the large numbers of children who are combatants on the planet. These children are also often victims of violence, namely rape, and sexual and commercial exploitation for the benefit of their commanders.
Suffering in Silence
In short, the children of the villages of the DR Congo have suffered immensely, in silence and without help. COFAPRI is making an urgent plea for assistance to help them heal their moral wounds and enable them with possibilities for a better future. Suffering in the shadow of unending wars and being victims of the rape of their mothers, these children are used as a tool for the destruction of women, which creates a child’s heart seemingly different from other humans.
Freedom for Perpetrators - While Victims are 'Dying Alive'
The various armed conflicts of the DR Congo have created immeasurable numbers of victims of sexual violence and other brutalities, including the exploitation of both children and their mothers. The numerous guerillas inhabiting the DR Congo, along with some regular army units, are now recognised as the cause of these atrocities inflicted on women and their children. Sadly, most of these perpetrators remain free, while the victims are dying alive.
Together We Can Change This
COFAPRI is sponsoring children to go to school.
* Full names withheld to protect the privacy of the children, for security and safety reasons.