22 January 2009
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Missing children from Kashenda
by Jane MacKay Wright
What would you do if armed government soldiers came into your home, greeted you formally, and announced they were taking your twelve-year old daughter? She would be a “military wife,” available for sex, cooking, washing, carrying heavy goods, and other chores that soldiers will not do.
Last week, soldiers did this to families of two schoolgirls in Kashenda village, which CPT visited last weekend with its partner Groupe Martin Luther King. The girls are friends--one in the last grade of primary school, the other in the first year of secondary school. Their families are heartbroken. Their parents are afraid to leave their homes.
But everyone in Kashenda lives in fear.
The village lies at the bottom of green mountains above Lake Kivu, near Minova, Masisi territory, North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Last year, CPTers could not use the road to Minova because of fighting between government forces, rebel CNDP armies, and seven other militias. This year, CPTers saw government soldiers throughout the area. Villagers pointed out their camps on ridges looking down on Kashenda. Rebels and other militias assemble in the hills farther out, just out of sight. Armed groups shoot at farmers going out to their fields, attack and rape women if they wander far from the village to gather firewood, and take children to be soldiers or 'wives.'
A woman told CPT that two fourteen year olds were walking down the main road in Kashenda in the mid-afternoon, when rebels appeared and marched them up into the hill for training as soldiers. CPTers met a young university student whom government soldiers have threatened to rape. She is so afraid she has not left her home for days. Her family cannot afford to move her to Goma to continue her studies. Villagers told CPT that in the past they had complained about such behaviour to two government commanders, and officials had jailed the spokesperson.
After much encouragement last week, the families of the two schoolgirls went with neighbours to the local police. Everyone knows the soldiers who took away their children. They know the regiment. They know the commander's name. The police told them to go away; there are strict divisions between government military and local police. Villagers feel powerless against poorly paid and poorly disciplined soldiers who have orders from Kinshasa, DRC's capital city.
Children are missing. The problem is war, say the Kashenda villagers, and war is too big for them to solve. They ask us to tell our governments to get the foreign soldiers out of the Congo. “Tell Rwanda to take back its soldiers.” “Tell the international community to stop encouraging the chaos, to stop stripping the Congo of its minerals.” They want to live. They want their children back.