Mothers in Congo get help in raising children of rape
Group homes and networks are helping mothers in Congo to counter harsh discrimination as well as their frequent reluctance to accept children of rape. Since fighting engulfed eastern Congo in the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands of women have been victims of sexual violence.
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It is in this environment that Emérance is raising Ansima, an energetic child who seems to be in a constant battle to contain her giggles. Her name means "God loves me" in Mashi. Both Emérance and her mother say Ansima is a blessing and a comfort given the murder of the rest of their family, including five other children and Emelide's husband.Skip to next paragraph
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Most organizations that work with children conceived through sexual violence don't do so exclusively. Alessandra Dentice, with the United Nations Children's Fund, says none of their programs target this group in part to avoid exposing the children. Other advocates reiterated this point.
Stigma of father's identity
In addition, identity in Congo usually comes from the father – a problem when he is the enemy.
"If these children are stigmatized, it is because people see the evil things their fathers do, armed people from Rwanda," argues Gilbert Bandibabone, a psychologist who works with rape survivors living at Maison Dorcas, a transit house associated with Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. But members of the FDLR are not the only targets of anger over rape. Francine Chance Mahoro was raped as she made her way to a neighbor's house in her village of Masisi. It was dark; she does not know who did it.
Her daughter, Joyce Kisegeti Pamela, is now 2-1/2 months old. At Heal Africa's transit house in Goma, Charlotte Riziki, the head counselor, says it took Francine weeks simply to name the girl. She continues to grapple with her new role as a mother.
"Being first raped and then pregnant ... she doubly loses her status," Ms. Riziki said. "She's not a girl, she's not a woman; she has no place."
Advocates acknowledge that some women never appear to overcome their pain. Maua Songolo, who was 14 when the Interahamwe raped her and beat her repeatedly, still does not accept her 4-year-old daughter.
Heal Africa has 28 safe houses in North Kivu and Maniema provinces, and in the past seven years has trained about 465 village women as counselors. At the houses, survivors and women from local communities can receive counseling, referrals, and vocational training.
Muliri Jeanne Kabekatyo, coordinator for Heal Africa's gender-based violence program in Maniema Province, says hospital staff members work with political, religious, and traditional community leaders – often men – to reverse the stigma women encounter. These men can, and often do, influence the population to welcome rape survivors home.
Ms. Kabekatyo says counselors urge women to ignore those who say children born of rape will become troublemakers like their fathers.
"The counselors continually tell that woman that if you surround your child with love, the child will be useful in society," she said in a recent telephone interview. "The child will understand, 'I was raised with love, I have a moral debt to share that with others, with society.' We want to make out of these children artisans of peace."
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