Source: IPS
In some Democratic Republic of Congo schools, teachers and senior authorities are using their status to abuse girls who do not know their rights, according to the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights.

Both ignorance of the law and victims’ fear of exposing their abusers are furthering sexual abuse in the DRC’s capital Kinshasa, and Matadi, one of the main cities in the western province of Bas-Congo.

“Many cases still go unreported because of the victims’ fear and ignorance of their rights. Ignorance is the main reason for the silence kept by victims, who are often intimidated by teachers and other school authorities. It will be necessary, from this point forward, to monitor and punish these authorities,” Dora Zaki, lawyer and vice president of AADHR, a local organisation, told IPS.

The organisation released a report on Jul. 6 detailing approximately 100 cases of rape, which occurred between April and June, in 45 schools in Kinshasa and Matadi. The local police provided statistics for Matadi, while AADHR conducted the survey in Kinshasa.

“Young girls are regularly raped in schools with authorities and the justice system remaining silent,” stated the AADHR report entitled, “School and sexual abuse in DRC: knowledge is power”.

Mado Mpezo, National Police Chief Commissioner in charge of child and women protection and sexual abuse in DRC, warned about the “increasingly frequent cases of sexual abuse in the town of Matadi.”

She reported that “on the nights of Jun. 27–28, a 50-year-old man raped a 14-year-old girl” and that “in the month of June alone, 40 cases of rape were reported in that town.”

Zaki said: “In order to effectively fight against sexual abuse in schools, students need to be urgently made aware of their rights by the publicising of the two laws on sexual abuse.”

According to two DRC laws passed in 2006, sentences for those who sexually assault children are now much harsher. These laws define rape and include classifying sexual relations with a minor under the age of 16 as rape. They also outline procedures for judging these crimes.

But Romain Mindomba, national vice president of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice, told IPS that these laws alone were not enough.

“The government must put in place a mechanism to make school children and even school authorities aware of all sexual offences punishable by law, and the heavy penalties faced by the perpetrators of these crimes.

“It is important to compel students to expose any person who tries to compel them to have sexual relations. Educating potential victims will strengthen their capacity to speak out and lodge their complaints,” Mindomba said.

Dieudonne Baderha, head of Nakiyinga private secondary school in Kinshasa, told IPS that it was difficult when a teacher was accused of sexual assault as in many cases “there is never any proof or actual witnesses.”

“After dismissing a mathematics teacher last year, the school’s management realised that it had been misled by a student claiming to be a victim, who wanted to take revenge on a teacher she believed didn’t like her because she was not doing well in that subject,” he said.

However, according to Thiery Sabi, deputy state prosecutor in the Gombe High Court in Kinshasa, “increasingly, there are cases of sexual abuse of young students being brought to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.”

“On average, the Public Prosecutor’s Office here receives 10 to 15 complaints per week,” he said, adding that among the victims was a 10-year-old girl who had been allegedly raped by a lawyer.

Congolese Minister of Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education Maker Mwangu told IPS: “The government is aware of the urgency with which it must act to put an end to these crimes.”

He added that meetings were organised in May with members of the legislature’s Socio-cultural Commission, to chart the way forward on “improving protection of children from sexual abuse.”

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