Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Congo: Grim Fate of Street Girls

LUBUMBASHI, CONGO -- Bijou, 16, speaks in a soft, low voice as she paints a grim picture of what life is like for a young girl living on the streets of Lubumbashi, the second largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

On her first day away from home, men older than her but also living on the streets shaved her head and ripped her clothes off. These “big brothers”, as she calls them, also tortured her by putting melted plastic bags on her skin and then raped her.

“This continued until all the men had had me,” she recalled. “This is the baptism ritual. It happens to everyone who is new.”

Bijou was then sent out on to the streets to earn money as a prostitute. When she returned, she says she was beaten up and the money taken from her.

She was only 11 when she began this way of life.

Many hundreds of girls are forced to live this way across the city, where poverty and unemployment are rife. Family life has often broken down and divorce has increased in the wake of two wars in the 1990s, which has led to many children leaving home or being thrown out.

The exact number of street children in the city is not known, but a 2006 study by Lubumbashi University suggested a figure of nearly 17,000. Lubumbashi has an estimated population of around 1.2 million.

Since then, the global financial crisis has exacerbated the widespread poverty and unemployment in the country...

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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