Shattered Future: Sexual Violence and Child Exploitation in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of the Congo  - I rent a tent for five dollars a week, and pay 30 as a monthly fee to access an artisanal mining camp of more than 900 miners. To get there takes a two-hour climb from the nearest trading centre. I sleep with about six male workers, each of whom pays about three dollars per session. Sometimes a miner pays for an entire overnight session for five dollars. I have four children that I left with my mother in the provincial capital, which is about three hours’ drive from this site. Every month I spend three weeks on top of this hill providing sex services within the camp, then for a week I go check on the children and bring money for their upkeep...

This testimony of a sexually-abused woman represents the plight of many young girls that are sexually violated in thousands of artisanal mining zones in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Despite the international, regional and national due diligence guidelines and mechanisms such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk areas; the Regional Certification Mechanism (RCM) of the Great Lakes Region, sexual violence, labour exploitation and abuse against women and children continue to occur at an alarming rate in and around artisanal mining sites in the country.

A recent assessment by the Panzi Hospital in South Kivu, in collaboration with IOM, the UN Migration Agency, revealed escalating human rights violations and abuse against women and children who suffer in silence for fear of social apprehensions, reprisals, stigmatization and social exclusion. The study also highlights the concerning situation particularly of sexual violence against young women and girls leading to unwanted pregnancies and early parenthood.

Because of recurring conflict in the Eastern DRC, associated with deep-seated gender discrimination, harmful cultural practices and the low social status of women and children contribute to high rates of gender-based violence. Labour exploitation and abuse against women and children continue occurring at alarming rates particularly around remote mining sites where laws and rules are often disrespected, and poor work and social conditions prevail.

Despite national and international efforts to improve the justice system and build up the capacity of security forces, impunity remains the norm and justice the exception.

To address these human right violations of women and children in the mining areas and empower them to participate in social and economic systems without stigma and discrimination, IOM and the Panzi Foundation in the South Kivu are collaborating to find external support that will help the two organizations provide a holistic set of essential services targeting female sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors and exploited children.

This could be done through provision of medical care, psychosocial support, economic reintegration, vocational and literacy training, legal support, and strengthening of civilian and

police and judicial systems for prevention and case referral system. Community awareness activities and information campaigns will use various communication approaches to promote rights and equity of women and children.

In a recent speech at a global meeting on natural resources, governance and human rights held in Dakar, Senegal, Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Medical Director of the Panzi Hospital and Foundation stated: “We can no longer continue to repair the consequences of violence without talking about its root causes.”

This story was shared by IOM DRC team.