Disaster in Congo: mulonda’s baby
Mulonda holds her little baby in her arms, a skinny little boy, less than 2000 g in weight. Where it should be a moment of bliss between a mother and her child, in reality it is a personal disaster. The young Congolese girl is just 13 years old and her son is the result of a tragedy she was gang raped by five soldiers who ambushed her on her way home one day.
Rape is a weapon of war in Congo states Christiane Ruhmich, medical coordinator of the project VAS – Support for victims of sexual violence, carried out by the Order of Malta German Emergency Corps (Malteser). The civil war has led to extreme social erosion, causing a collapse of morals across a large part of the affected population. Through raping the women, the offenders intend to destroy the social existence of the female population.
Mulonda case is not an isolated one. Humanitarian organisations estimate that about 30,000 girls and women were raped during the last years of civil war in Congo. The offenders are either from militias on different sides of the civil war or local gangs wearing military clothes, and who cannot be distinguished from the soldiers. Sometimes during the night they attack whole villages or look for their victims on paths, roads or in the fields. Once carried off, the women are often abused regularly.
Since the beginning the Malteser project has taken care of 8,000 girls and women. Each month the team sends approx 10 women into the hospitals of Bukavu for examination by Congolese gynaecologists. In addition to medical care, Malteser are offering psychological help to the victims, about half of whom accept it. We want to include everybody, even the shyest women, in our psychological care system, states Christiane Ruhmich.
The psychological attendance is taken over by two Congolese psychologists, a man and a woman, and a number of voluntary counsellors who provide companionship and mediation for the women returning to their villages and families. About 80% have been rape victims themselves. Many of the victims subsequently decided to train to help other rape victims.
In many cases the female victims are repudiated by their husbands, families, even their villages. Often they are pregnant. In October, 17 women and girls who came to VAS were pregnant as a result of these attacks; in September, there were 13 cases. In addition to the consequences of the humiliation and discrimination, the victims are suffering from physical injury as a result of the rape.
For the year 2005, Malteser, together with the European Commission – Humanitarian Aid Office, has planned more action to support the victims of rape. In cooperation with the local Health Office, Malteser will carry out an evaluation of data about rapes in the province of South-Kivu. The recommedation is that the judicial position of the victims should be strengthened. They all receive a medical certificate, which Ruhmich hopes will enable them one day to go to court against their attackers. She is astonished by the women’s strength and their general attitude in dealing with their situation.
These small successes encourage the Order of Malta staff and everyone involved in VAS. Even in the case of 13 year old Mulonda there was light at the end of the tunnel: her father decided not to ban her from the family, so that now she and her baby son can stay in the house and will also receive support from the VAS counsellors.
Since 1996, the Order of Malta German Emergency Corps has been active in Democratic Republic of Congo. In more than 300 health centres and 20 nutrition centres Malteser cares for about 2,5 million people in close cooperation with the local health authorities.
By Dirke Köpp the Rheinische Post (Germany 2004)