SPECIAL REPORTS

Raped by War

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, military and militias continue striking out on woman and children as part of the spoils of

Rape is a constant fear for woman in villages along Congo's eastern countryside, primarily in Kivu. Rebels see woman here as both spoils and a by-product of the war they rage.The ones that are spared must continue to live on, though the fear of death never leaves them. Still, they move on, trying to better their lives and their community. © Amy Earnst 2010

KIVU, Democratic Republic of Congo--Their bounty is the minerals that sell for millions on the global market. Their weapons (and also perceived wage) are the innocent woman and children that fill the villages here.

In what has amounted to the deadliest conflict in the world—reaching proportions equal to World War II (5.4 million deaths since 1998)—rape is a tragic side effect to a people group who know nothing different than conflict. On both sides of the battle, government and rebel forces, women and children are victimized.

This could be a number of places in Africa—and it has been—but the worst of it at the present is in the Democratic Republic Congo where militia groups claiming allegiance to either Uganda, ethnic Hutus, ethnic Tutsis vie with the Congolese military for power and territory—and destroy the lives of those caught in between.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire) has long been a warring nation, primarily since an skilled rebel leader named Laurent-Désiré Kabila marched to the capital of Kinshasa and caused a coup there. But the forces that helped him get there (factions from Uganda/Rwanda) turned on him and have been warring ever since, despite several cease fires and peace accords; the names and leaders of the fighting groups have changed over time but the same battle lines exist.

Rape and pillaging have always been connected to the aftermath. More than 15,000 rapes have been reported in Congo in 2008 and 2009, including children, according to the United Nations.

Most of the platoons armed with boy soliders—literally children with guns—these rebels spray bullets into towns in nearby military camps and take advantage of the woman there.

As reported by Amy Ernst , an American Aid worker with COPERMA (in a blog she shared with the New York Times): Charline was raped by a civilian as she fled the soldiers at age 14. Patience was raped by a soldier at age 12. Masika was able to hide in the bush. Also 12, she watched as soldiers shot both of her parents and raped all of the girls she was with. She is small, soft-spoken and looks a bit like a very pretty boy. “I miss my parents,” she says softly.

Reports have recently surfaced that this tragedy of raping woman has once again become epidemic. Five hundred were raped since late July, according to the United Nations.

Despite increased awareness, many feel there is no hope in sight. Those with guns will continue the bloodshed…for it is part of the culture, according to those that live in Congo. Factors include the poverty, the status (or lack thereof) of woman, the affects of war…it all leads to a very tragic story.

Treatment centers sponsored by non-governmental organizations do what they can to revitalize victimized woman. This is the one of the only signs of hope within the darkness.

Maman Marie Nzoli, who has had several near-rape experiences, began COPERMA in 1983, a community organization that focuses on building centers to protect and educate children, specifically victims of the war, and more specifically young mothers who are victims of rape. The centers help the woman remove the stigma of victims and help them become vital members of society by educating them in a specific trade and giving them confidence and self-esteem. As part of the overall mission of COPERMAN, the centers also have a placement program, where orphans—from the war—are placed in foster homes within the villages. There are 1,000 girls spread throughout the 10 centers.

HEAL [Health + Education + Action + Leadership] Africa is also working within this difficult environment. Like COPERMA, the organization seeks to provide medical attention to victims and then rehabilitate them back into society.

The world, to include the United Nations and African governments, are striving for peace but rebel forces continue to take their plunder as they see it.

For that reason, those on the ground walk in fear. Their death may come at any time. Yet they must push forward. People like Maman Marie Nzoli are examples of that. She continues to fight for the broken and the victimized day in and day out.

----

Amy Earnst, serving with COPERMA, contributed her insights to this article. To find more about Coperma and the efforts to help the children there, you may visit http://www.crosiersincongo.com/1/cic/around_the_country.asp?artID=7218