In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the situation of young women remains a cause for concern. Despite the adoption of the Child Protection Act in 2009, young women and girls are still victims of gender-based violence, particularly child marriage and domestic labour.
Around 43% of girls in the DRC are married before the age of 18.
The programme “Women and men, progressing together”, implemented with financial support from the European Union in partnership with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), seeks to end gender-based violence, including child marriage.
Around the country, hundreds of people are mobilising for the rights of girls. Meet some of these champions!
“In my community, lots of young girls, sometimes as young as 13, are prostituted to provide for their families’ needs. Once pregnant, they are forced to get married and must give up their studies. But our girls should be studying for as long as possible in order to take our places, to obtain a place in society, represent women and govern alongside men.”
“As a woman, I cannot accept that other women are being denigrated and sexually abused. A woman should be honoured and allowed to maintain her dignity. An underage girl does not have the understanding or the maturity needed to willingly agree to marriage. She becomes her husband’s slave, and can no longer develop physically or intellectually. The trivialisation of underage marriage facilitates the illiteracy of a whole generation of women.”
Janette and her husband
“Despite criticism from our neighbours, almost all of whom had their daughters married at a very young age, we decided to cancel the marriage of our youngest daughter, aged 13, and to wait until she is 18 before accepting any new requests. We feared for her health. Here in this environment, pregnancies amongst young girls often lead to caesareans and complications which are at times fatal.”
“For a young girl, marriage is a burden which prevents her from developing. In our province, between domestic work, working in the fields and their marital duties, which entail a large number of pregnancies, women who get married young have no free time. Education is the only thing that allows them to free themselves of this burden.”
“Around here, lots of young girls die following a difficult birth. Their parents are then accused of witchcraft. However, the truth is that the body of a 13 year old girl has difficulty handling a pregnancy. This makes me very unhappy and I have banned underage marriages in my jurisdiction. I have also named women as village chiefs or deputies in all of the communities which make up my territory, in order to make sure this measure is respected.”
Merveille and Nathan
“It’s not normal when a child must take care of another child. At 15, a girl is still a child; her parents must take care of her, instead of her taking care of another child.”
This photo essay was originally published on Ponabana. It was partially reproduced with the permission of UNICEF DRC. Photo credit: UNICEF DRC / Gwenn Dubourthoumieu.
In the time it has taken to read this article 31 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds