When I was recently sent to photograph a campaign against violence in schools in the north Kivu area for the Global Fund for Women I thought that maybe it was a matter of bullying. What I discovered was an alarming crisis in the Congo. Although it is illegal, beating is very common in the schools. These are beatings so severe that recently a girl in secondary school was beaten to death by her teacher.
What is most alarming are the young girls that are being raped especially in secondary schools. These girls are being coerced into having sex with their teachers by being told that they can’t stay in school or won’t pass their class if they don’t have sex with them, or the teacher will violently have his way with the girl. Then when they do succumb to the teacher he ignores the girl or kicks her out of class anyway so he doesn’t get caught.
Many of these girls are becoming pregnant by their own teachers, they are forced leave school and these children are having babies as result of these rapes. Often their families will abandon them out of shame so they have no support, leaving them to be vulnerable for more abuse or rape. One headmaster raped a young girl in 6th form and when they tried to convict him he ran away. There is little justice for these girls.
I photographed safe houses or shelters for the women and girls who have suffered gender based violence. There are women who are simply performing the daily activity of fetching water or collecting firewood in the forest when they are attacked and raped by often by the men who are meant to protect them police or soldiers. They do not want to tell their husbands but sometimes they are so badly beaten and injured they have to be hospitalized. Many times these women and girls become pregnant and produce children from the rape. Their husbands will abandon then for the fear AIDS or the stigma of raising someone else’s baby. These women have no recourse, no justice.
I have recently donated to PAIF to help support these safe houses for the girls and women through my Faces of Hope Fund. To find out more please visit www.facesofhope.org.