United against child marriage in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Merveille Ntumba, 19, and Nathan Katende, 17, are young reporters in Kinshasa. Photo credit: UNICEF DRC / Gwenn Dubourthoumieu

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!

Bernadette

Bernadette, 55, is a civil servant in the provincial Ministry for the Budget in Bandundu. She is a community organiser for a women’s rights NGO, NDJF (Nouvelle Dynamique de la Jeunesse Féminine), and has been involved in efforts to end child marriage for ten years. Photo credit: UNICEF DRC / Gwenn Dubourthoumieu.

“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.”

Godelive

Godelive, 40, is a senior commissioner for child protection and the prevention of sexual violence in Bandundu. Photo credit: UNICEF DRC / Gwenn Dubourthoumieu.

“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

Janette Bibey, 48, and her husband Mpwate Maskane, 60, live in the village of Bonkulu, near the city of Bandundu. Photo credit: UNICEF DRC / Gwenn Dubourthoumieu.

“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.”

Dadu

Dadu, 34, is a journalist for the television channel Télé 50 in the city of Bandundu. In 2015, he won the Gender Links for Equality and Justice prize from the Congolese Union for Women in the Media. Photo credit: UNICEF DRC / Gwenn Dubourthoumieu.

“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.”

Anoy

Anoy Ngolor is the “Mfumu Nkento” (woman chief) of the Bukuyi community in the Bagata territory, around 130km from the city of Bandundu, in the Kwilu province. She is working to promote gender equality and to end child marriages in her jurisdiction. Photo credit: UNICEF DRC / Gwenn Dubourthoumieu.

“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

Merveille Ntumba, 19, and Nathan Katende, 17 , are young reporters in Kinshasa. Photo credit: UNICEF DRC / Gwenn Dubourthoumieu.

“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.