DRC

Improving the lives of street living children

Day 14 of #16DaysofActivism

By Stephanie Mooney

Any form of abuse leaves scars. A few years ago I participated in some focus group meetings with street living children, aged from 6 years to 16 years, to explore starting a radio project for Feba UK for these children in Kinshasa, DR Congo. It was particularly difficult to get street living girls to participate but we where able to include a small group of teenage girls. I was deeply affected by a 16 year-old girl who showed me several scars on her body that she had suffered from being beaten and being raped. These were her outward scars but she also had deep psychological scars from her suffering that couldn’t be as easily seen.

Shockingly, this girl’s experiences are not uncommon; as there are approximately 25,000 children living on the streets of Kinshasa and the number is growing. Many of the children are on the streets because they have been accused of being witches and as a result, been thrown out of their homes and excluded from their communities. Any child living on the street is marginalised, but girls are particularly vulnerable and to survive, many are coerced into sex work.

As the Feba UK radio project developed, the group of street living children helped develop a script for a radio drama series to address child witch accusations and the girls in the group were particularly keen on their experiences being reflected. The part of the drama that they wanted to include was the traumatic ‘baptism’ of young girls on the streets, which is when a girl newly on the streets is ‘initiated’ by being raped.  The girls were very vocal about ensuring that this was reflected correctly in the drama as their experiences and their suffering had previously been ignored.

By being based on the real life experiences of young street living children, the radio drama series and the wider radio project were able to give these children an opportunity to talk about their lives on the streets. Skills development was provided for these street living children to become youth journalists.  This innovative project helped the children find ways to improve their lives and helped change the perception and behaviour of the wider community towards them.

Improving the lives of street living children is a massive challenge and will not happen overnight; however, these youth journalists are persevering and using the media space to share stories, to promote healing and to protect the rights of street living children.  

If this article raises any personal issues please contact your local professional services or contact the helplines below.

In Australia: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

In UK: National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247

Any child living on the street is marginalised, but girls are particularly vulnerable and to survive, many are coerced into sex work.

Any child living on the street is marginalised, but girls are particularly vulnerable and to survive, many are coerced into sex work.

Protecting Women - Valuing Girls in North Kivu

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Day 9 of #16DaysofActivism

By Jon Hargreaves

I photographed the billboard above recently in a remote village in North Kivu in the DRC. It depicts two men molesting a woman with the words: “You wouldn’t do this if it was your mother, would you!” It is a stark reminder of the widespread use of rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated in this country, notably as a weapon of war and coercion. Ravaged by over twenty years of conflict, with 3.7 million internally displaced people, UNWomen estimates that over 1 million women have been raped in the DRC.

HCR’s partner station in North Kivu, Umoja FM seeks to prevent and respond to sexual violence by building community resilience and changing attitudes about the value of women and girls, especially their education. The station runs programmes which provide counselling and trauma healing for survivors as well as advice for young people. In a meeting with listeners a few weeks ago I heard many stories of how the radio station has made a huge difference since 2016, when it was launched by Feba UK in collaboration with HCR and a local NGO, Esader.

One listener said: “In Watalinga (district) there was an attitude that we had to marry our girls at a very young age and so there was no point educating them. But the radio has changed all that, and I should know, because I used to think like that.” Another said that although many NGO’s had come and gone, the radio is always with them, helping them, bringing new ideas.

Station Manager Baraka Basweki told me, “We are changing community attitudes towards the value of women and girls. As one person changes so they influence another and another - you can feel it is different now.”