Visiting DR Congo, UNICEF chief comes face to face with sexual violence victims

28 August 2009

The head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) came face to face with some of the young victims of rape and violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as she continued her five-day visit to the vast African nation.

The head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) came face to face with some of the young victims of rape and violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as she continued her five-day visit to the vast African nation.

During a visit to Bukavu in the province of South Kivu, Executive Director Ann M. Veneman visited with patients and staff at the Panzi Hospital, which specializes in treating victims of sexual violence, the agency said in a news release.

At least 200,000 cases of sexual violence has been recorded in eastern DRC since 1996, according to a recent report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who earlier this month called on the Security Council to set up an independent commission of inquiry into such abuse in the conflicts in DRC, Chad and Sudan.

At the UNICEF-supported Panzi Hospital, Ms. Veneman met a young woman whose name means ‘love’ in Swahili and who told her she was repeatedly raped a year ago.

“What shocked me even more was that she said after the first soldier raped her, the second soldier took a cloth from his pocket to wipe her clean and then proceeded to rape her. This happened multiple times,” said Ms. Veneman.

The young woman was raped again this past June when soldiers came back to her village. “To go through this twice is horrific enough,” Ms. Veneman said. “But what she told me next just broke my heart… her husband shunned her and told her he could not stay with her after she had been raped so many times.”

The UNICEF chief noted that many women and children have to fend for themselves as their families and communities have abandoned them.

“It is critical to create security in this region so that these women can generate incomes to support their families,” she stated.

Ms. Veneman also met a 15-year-old girl who she had met in 2006 during her first visit to DRC.

“In 2006, I met a 12-year-old girl who was attacked and brutally raped by four men,” she said. “Her story has been with me ever since. Three years on, she is wracked with physical pain, and even more, I saw heartbreaking mental anguish in her eyes.”

Among the many efforts being supported by UNICEF in the country is the City of Joy, a joint programme with Panzi Hospital and V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. The programme aims to provide health, educational and income-generating opportunities to rape survivors, especially those who cannot return to their families and communities.

 

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News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

Growing number of women falling victim to rape in DR Congo, reports UN

The United Nations humanitarian wing is urging greater protection for civilians in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which has witnessed a surge in sexual violence since the beginning of this year.