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DRC-street-childrenDRC: Children born of conflict rape often end up on the street, where they become vulnerable targets of war lords and traffickers. Photo: Mugisho Theophile, COFAPRI

Why They Rape: Former Child Soldier Speaks Out

By Mugisho Theophile, co-founder of COFAPRI

Bahati Valérie Meets With a Former Child Soldier 

It is essential to try to understand the reasons why fighters rape women and girls.

COFAPRI co-founder, Bahati Valérie, recently spent time visiting the rural villages in eastern DR Congo, and talking with survivors of conflict rape.

Shortly afterwards, she met one of her old friends in Buvaku. In their exchange regarding COFAPRI's work, the friend told Bahati that she knows someone who used to be a child soldier; a member of the Mai Mai. Bahati made arrangements with her friend to meet the former child soldier.

The Mai Mai is a fighters’ movement that claimed to fight for DRC national integrity, and to resist the Interahamwe. The Interahamwe militia (Hutu paramilitary organisation) are the people who committed the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda; they took refuge in the DRC forests when they fled from the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the rebel movement in Rwanda that had originally come from Uganda.

The boy was very open and friendly but refused to tell his name or for any photos to be taken.

He said that it is the Intrahamwe who rape women and girls and not the Mai Mai, who protect the Congolese. He said that therefore he had not raped women and girls.

Bahati asked him to clarify whether he had ever raped even one girl. He smiled while scratching his face, and asked her to continue with the conversation, adding that issues of rape were past. He insisted that very few of his former comrades used to rape.

However, he claimed to know the reasons why fighters rape children and women, young and old alike.

The former child soldier explained the motivations of his comrades who had been raping women and girls:

  1. Witch doctors. Witch doctors told them to rape many women; old, young and children, so as to get extra power for killing more enemies.
  2. Drugs. After taking drugs (alcohol, marijuana, etc ) they cannot control their behavior and so they behave like an animal when they see a woman.
  3. Long periods in bush. Spending a long period in the bush make them more likely to rape when they see women.
  4. Sexual exerience. Most of them joined as fighters while still children, and they had never experienced sexual activity. Now they have guns, they have power over women and girls, and want to experience the feelings of a man who rapes a woman or a girl.
  5. Punishment. To punish and dishonour women or girls: particularly a girl or a woman the fighter wanted to flirt when he was a civilian, but she had refused. Then by raping her, he has punished her and her family.
  6. Revenge. Rape for revenge; in cases where families, clans or tribes had long lasting contentions. Often the leader sought information about the hideouts of an enemy family. Then he told his fighters to seek means to reach them out in their hiding place, get their daughters and wives and rape them. The fighter may also rape as an act of retaliation against an enemy family. In this case, most rapes took place within sight of other family members, to ridicule them. If they tried to intervene, the rapist shot them dead and then raped the wives or the girls, and afterwards also killed the victim in an awful way. Such abominable activities were often conducted during the night.
  7. Weapon of war. Rape is used as a weapon of war, to wage violence. The weapon of rape is worse than any firearm. A firearm kills an individual on the spot, and does not make the victim so suffer much and for so long. The weapon of rape is worse, as it slowly destroys the emotional and physical wellbeing of the victim. The victim sees herself as if dying, as she suffers the moral and physical wounds that were inflicted by the rapist.