By Laura Cofsky

 

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, no one is safe.

In all eleven provinces, human trafficking is ubiquitous. While men and boys are often placed into “debt bondage”—forced to work for below-market prices, pay illegal taxes and help loot goods—women and girls face a slightly different fate.

Congolese girls are placed into tent or hut-based brothels. If they try to escape to other countries, they run the risk of getting captured into another human trafficking ring.

If they aren’t forced into prostitution, these women and girls will be pushed into domestic servitude or agricultural labor.

When it comes to human trafficking, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a Tier 3 country—the bottom of the ranking scale. This means that they are not even attempting to eradicate the practice, let alone prosecute offenders or raise awareness about the issue.

The government is not trying to find a solution because it is a major part of the problem. Multiple government organizations are involved in the trafficking process, victimizing rather than protecting trafficked individuals.

The UN reported that indigenous and foreign-armed groups, such as the FDLR and various local militia, are also major players.

And it has been getting worse. Unlike the previous year, in 2012 the government did not even report investigating people or organizations involved in human trafficking.

Much like produce, victims from the DRC are also exported to other countries, like Angola, South Africa, and East African and Middle Eastern nations, as well as some countries in Europe.[1]

But just as scary is the fate that escapees face. Escaping sexual violence or trafficking is highly stigmatized, and many of these women are forced to undergo fistula—“a painful and embarrassing tearing of the wall between the vaginal and rectal canals.”[2]

Their whole community abandons them, and even aid workers aren’t always on their side.

There aren’t many figures or statistics for how many women are abducted. Unofficially, girls make up 20% of the 31,000 children who escape, and part of the 3,500 children that are known to be enslaved.

Under-age girls are the hardest to rescue because the militias that kidnap them don’t want to be accused of sexual assault.[3]

In 2011, Amnesty International named the Democratic Republic of the Congo one of the worst places on Earth in which to be a woman. So far, things don’t seem to be getting better.

 

Laura Cofsky is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English literature. Upon graduation, she hopes to become a journalist.


[1] “2012 Trafficking in Person Report—Congo, Democratic Republic of the,” Refworld. 19 June 2012. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,USDOS,,COD,,4fe30cd537,0.html

[2] Lyric Thompson, “The World’s Worst Places to Be a Woman.” Amnesty International, 17 June 2011. http://blog.amnestyusa.org/africa/the-worlds-worst-places-to-be-a-woman/

[3] Heather Murdock, “Congo: Girls Forced to Be Soldiers.” Global Post, 30 May 2011. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/110527/congo-sex%20slaves-girl-soldiers-helped-resume-normal-lives

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