Democratic Republic of the Congo
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law on sexual violence criminalizes rape, but it was underreported by victims and thus not always enforced. Rape was common. The legal definition of rape includes male victims, sexual slavery, sexual harassment, forced pregnancy, and other sexual crimes but not spousal rape. It also prohibits extrajudicial settlements (for example, a customary fine paid by the perpetrator to the family of the victim) and forced marriage, allows victims of sexual violence to waive appearance in court, and permits closed hearings to protect confidentiality. The minimum penalty prescribed for rape is a prison sentence of five years, and courts regularly imposed such a sentence in rape convictions.
At year’s end the government was reviewing and amending the national gender policy and the national strategy to combat SGBV to include recommendations from the mid-term review of both documents. The law on parity, designed to operationalize the articles of the constitution that provide for equal representation and participation of women at decision-making levels and processes, was adopted and promulgated in August 2015. In June an amended family code was adopted and signed by the president. Implementation of the legislation, including promulgation of the text, had not begun by year’s end.
The SSF, RMGs, and civilians perpetrated widespread sexual violence (see section 1.g.). During the year the United Nations documented 267 adult victims and 171 child victims, including two boys, of sexual violence in conflict. Crimes of sexual violence were committed sometimes as a tactic of war to punish civilians for perceived allegiances with rival parties or groups. The crimes occurred largely in the conflict zones in North Kivu Province but also throughout the country. The 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found that more than one in four women nationwide (27 percent) had experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives, up from 22 percent in 2007.
Some prosecutions occurred for rape and other types of sexual violence. On May 21, 90 persons, including a provincial member of parliament, were arrested and charged in military court for abduction, rape, and genital mutilation in Kavumu, South Kivu Province. The cases were pending at year’s end.
On March 31, FARDC leadership and some government ministers signed a pledge to combat rape in war. The pledge requires all FARDC commanders to take a number of actions, such as disciplining and assuring prosecution of alleged perpetrators of SGBV, facilitate access to perpetrators for military prosecutors, and raise awareness of SGBV.
Most survivors of rape did not pursue formal legal action due to insufficient resources, lack of confidence in the justice system, fear of subjecting themselves to humiliation and/or reprisal, or family pressure.
It was common for family members to pressure a rape survivor to remain silent, even in collaboration with health-care professionals, to safeguard the reputations of the survivor and her family. Survivors of SGBV faced significant social stigma. Society tended to label many young women and girls who survived a sexual assault as unsuitable for marriage, and husbands frequently abandoned wives who had been assaulted. Some families forced rape survivors to marry the men who raped them or to forgo prosecution in exchange for money or goods from the rapist.
The law does not provide any specific penalty for domestic violence despite its prevalence. The 2013-14 DHS found 57 percent of girls and women ages 14 and above had suffered physical violence. Although the law considers assault a crime, police rarely intervened in perceived domestic disputes. There were no reports of judicial authorities taking action in cases of domestic or spousal abuse.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law describes FGM/C as a form of sexual violence, provides a sentence of two to five years in prison, and levies fines of up to 200,000 Congolese francs ($170); in case of death due to FGM/C, the sentence is life imprisonment. There were no reports of FGM/C during the year.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed abuses of children, including the increase in sexual violence against infants in Kavumu, to harmful traditional practices. Perpetrators allegedly targeted children and infants because they believed harming children or sleeping with virgins could bring wealth and/or provide protection from death in conflict.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. A 2010 study conducted by the World Health Organization found 64 percent of all workers surveyed experienced sexual harassment at the workplace. Legislation passed in 2006 prohibits sexual harassment with a minimum sentence of one year, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law. For example, sexual harassment was common at the University of Kinshasa, where students reported that professors traded higher grades for sexual favors.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but they often lacked the information and means to do so. The law does not require a husband’s permission before providing family planning services to married women, but providers generally required it. In the case of a minor, intercourse is legally rape. Health-care providers hesitated to provide family planning materials in such instances for fear of legal repercussions. Women’s access to contraception remained extremely low. The UN Population Division estimated 8.3 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015. According to the survey, the maternal mortality rate was 846 deaths per 100,000 live births, and a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 24. A number of factors contributed to the continued high maternal mortality ratio, including high fertility rates. For example, adolescent (ages 15 to 19) fertility rates were 138 per 1,000 live births. Other causes of maternal mortality included limited access to health providers and specialists, frequent shortages in supplies and equipment for health centers, lack of specialized knowledge and training, and transportation problems. At times pregnant women delayed seeking health-care services due to cost and lack of knowledge of the seriousness of a related health problem.
Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but the law does not provide women the same rights as men. An August 2015 women’s parity law provides women a number of protections. It permits women to participate in economic domains without approval of male relatives, provides for maternity care, disallows inequities linked to dowries, and specifies fines and other sanctions for those who discriminate or engage in gender-based abuse.
According to UNICEF, many widows were unable to inherit their late husbands’ property because the law states that in event of a death in which there is no will, the husband’s children, including those born out of wedlock (provided that they were officially recognized by the father), rather than the widow have precedence with regard to inheritance. Courts may sentence women found guilty of adultery to up to one year in prison, while adultery by men is punishable only if judged to have “an injurious quality.” In their 2009 report to the UN Human Rights Commission, seven UN special rapporteurs and representatives expressed concern that although the family code recognizes equality between spouses, it “effectively renders a married woman a minor under the guardianship of her husband” by stating the wife must obey her husband. The 2015 family code includes this provision.
Women experienced economic discrimination. Various laws require political parties to consider gender when presenting candidates at all levels, although it is not compulsory for political parties to present women, making this difficult to enforce within constitutional requirements.
Birth Registration: The law provides for the acquisition of citizenship through birth within the country or from either parent being of an ethnic group documented as having been located in the country in 1960. The constitution does not allow Congolese nationals to hold the citizenship of another country. According to UNICEF, only 14 percent of children under age five had a birth certificate; the government had registered 25 percent of children born in some form of medical facility. Lack of registration rarely affected access to government services. Parents who failed to register a birth within 90 days were subject to fines, regardless of transportation difficulties or poverty.
Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education; in practice, however, it was not compulsory or tuition free, and the government inconsistently provided it across the provinces. Public schools generally expected parents to contribute to teachers’ salaries, with parents typically funding 77 percent or more of school expenses, and an average of 11 percent of family spending going to education costs. These expenses, combined with the potential loss of income from their children’s labor while they attended class, rendered many parents unable or unwilling to enroll their children. A 2013 government study found that between the ages of five and 17, girls made up more than half of the out-of-school population, with 68.3 percent of girls attending school as compared with 74.5 percent of boys.
Primary and secondary school attendance rates for girls were lower than for boys due to financial, cultural, or security reasons, including early marriage and pregnancy for girls. Additionally, children in school were not particularly safe. Teachers subjected one in four children to corporal punishment and pressured one in five girls to exchange sexual favors for high grades. A recent code of conduct, signed and promulgated by the minister of education, is partially intended to address the latter practice.
Many of the schools in the east were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. The government used others as housing for IDPs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of RMG forcible recruitment of child soldiers.
Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits all forms of child abuse, it regularly occurred.
The constitution prohibits parental abandonment of children accused of sorcery. Nevertheless, parents or other care providers sometimes abandoned or abused such children, frequently invoking “witchcraft” as a rationale. The law provides for the imprisonment of parents and other adults convicted of accusing children of witchcraft. Authorities did not implement the law.
Many churches conducted exorcisms of children accused of witchcraft. These exorcisms involved isolation, beating and whipping, starvation, and forced ingestion of purgatives. According to UNICEF, some communities branded children with disabilities or speech impediments as witches. This practice sometimes resulted in parents’ abandoning their children.
Early and Forced Marriage: While the law prohibits marriage of boys and girls under age 18, many marriages of underage children took place. According to the 2013-14 DHS, 37.3 percent of women between ages 20 to 24 cohabitated with a partner before the age of 18, and 10 percent before the age of 15, most of which arrangements the government treated as common-law marriages. Bridewealth (dowry) payment made by a groom or his family to the relatives of the bride to ratify a marriage greatly contributed to underage marriage, as parents forcibly married daughters to collect bridewealth or to finance bridewealth for a son. The constitution criminalizes forced marriage. Courts may sentence parents convicted of forcing a child to marry to up to 12 years’ hard labor and a fine of 92,500 Congolese francs ($78). The penalty doubles when the child is under age 15. Magistrates in the northern provinces of North Ubangi and South Ubangi began trying child marriage cases as gender violence, although the penalties were difficult to enforce. Local NGOs credited the magistrates’ efforts to information campaigns conducted among the local population and refugee camps, often supported by UNHCR.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Information is provided in women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both males and females, and the law prohibits prostitution by anyone under age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. During the year UNICEF assisted 4,627 victims of sexual exploitation, including 1,671 children, of whom 228 reported being victims of sexual violence by armed men. According to a 2010 World Bank report, 26 percent of children living on the streets were girls, of whom 70 percent were victims of rape, and 90 percent were victims of forced prostitution. The NGO Physicians for Human Rights reported sexual abuse of children was more prevalent in rural areas. A UN Security Council report on conflict-related sexual violence in 2014 confirmed 332 cases of conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated against girls and two against boys. The report asserted the actual numbers were higher, as most cases were unreported. There were also reports child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).
There was an increase in sexual violence against children and infants in Kavumu, South Kivu Province. In the last two years, there were at least 34 reported cases of sexual violence against babies, toddlers, and young children.
Child Soldiers: Armed groups recruited boys and girls (see section 1.g.).
Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans and other vulnerable children in the country. Ninety-one percent received no external support of any kind, and only 3 percent received medical support. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 children lived on the streets, with the highest concentration in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and bringing misfortune to their families.
The government was not equipped to deal with such large numbers of homeless children. The SSF abused and arbitrarily arrested street children.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The country had a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, intellectual, or mental disabilities; stipulates all citizens regardless of disability should have access to public services; and provides specific government protection to persons with disabilities. The constitution states all persons should have access to national education regardless of their mental, physical, or sensory state. The law states that private, public, and semipublic companies may not discriminate against qualified candidates based on intellectual, sensory, and physical disabilities. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and persons with disabilities often found it difficult to obtain employment, education, and government services. According a 2012 study by the National Federation of Associations of People Living with a Disability in Congo (FENAPHACO), an estimated 93 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed.
The law does not mandate access to government buildings or services for persons with disabilities. While persons with disabilities may attend public primary and secondary schools and have access to higher education, no special provisions are required of educational facilities to accommodate their specific needs. Consequently, according to FENAPHACO, 90 percent of adults with disabilities do not achieve basic literacy. Some schools for persons with disabilities, including persons with visual disabilities, received private and limited public funds to provide education and vocational training. Persons with disabilities have the right to vote, although lack of physical accessibility constituted a barrier for some persons with disabilities in exercising that right. The Ministry of Education increased its special education outreach efforts but estimated it was educating fewer than 6,000 children with disabilities.
The Ministry of Social Affairs, in cooperation with other concerned ministries (Labor, Education, Justice, and Health), had the lead in seeking to provide for the equitable treatment of persons with disabilities.
Disability groups reported extensive social stigmatization, including children with disabilities being expelled from their homes and accused of witchcraft. Families sometimes concealed their children with disabilities from officials to avoid being required to send them to school.
Ethnic Batwa persons frequently faced severe societal discrimination and had little protection from government officials (see section 1.g.).
There were reports of societal discrimination and violence against foreign minority groups. For example, protesters attacked businesses owned by ethnic Chinese during the January protests.
Estimates of the country’s indigenous population (Twa, Baka, Mbuti, Aka, Batwa, and others believed to be the country’s original inhabitants) varied greatly, from 250,000 to two million. Societal discrimination against these groups was widespread, and the government did not effectively protect their civil and political rights. According to the NGO Dynamic of Indigenous Peoples, there were no indigenous people in parliament or the government. Most indigenous people took no part in the political process, and many lived in remote areas. Fighting in the east between RMGs and SSF, expansion by farmers, and increased trading and excavation activities caused displacement of some indigenous populations. Throughout the year conflict between indigenous peoples and Balubakat communities led to mass movements of IDPs in northern Katanga Province (see section 1.g.).
While the law stipulates that indigenous populations receive 10 percent of the profits gained from use of their land, this provision was not enforced. In some areas surrounding tribes kidnapped and forced indigenous people into slavery, sometimes resulting in ethnic conflict (see section 1.g.). Indigenous populations also reported high instances of rape by members of outside groups, which contributed to HIV/AIDS infections and other health complications.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While no law specifically prohibits consensual sexual conduct between same-sex adults, individuals engaging in public displays of same-sex sexual conduct, such as kissing, were sometimes subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which society rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. The law prohibits those persons in same-sex relationship from adopting children. Same-sex relationships and identifying as LGBTI remained cultural taboos, and harassment by the SSF and judiciary occurred. For example, one individual reported that when he attempted to report being raped to police, they harassed and insulted him for being dressed as a woman and arrested him instead of the rapist. He was charged with pedophilia and detained three days before a local NGO arranged for a lawyer who successfully pled for his release.
LGBTI individuals were subjected to harassment, stigmatization, and violence including “corrective” rape, which was further fueled by condemnation from some religious leaders, radio broadcasts, and political organizations.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, but social stigma continued. In a 2012 UN-sponsored survey of 1,475 persons with HIV, 18 percent of participants reported losing their job, 6 percent reported medical staff had denied them access to some form of health care, and 50 percent reported school officials had denied some of their children access to education. A significant number of participants reported exclusion from family, social, and religious activities due to their HIV/AIDS status. Forty-nine percent of survey respondents in rural areas reported they faced coercion to undergo medical procedures, including HIV testing, and to disclose their HIV status. Respondents also indicated they had difficulty accessing public services and that their rights to make informed decisions about sex and reproduction were compromised when, for example, they were forced to be sterilized or told they should not have children since they were HIV positive. A total of 71 percent of the respondents had suffered verbal harassment and 38 percent physical harassment.
The 2013-14 DHS captured a proxy indicator measuring the level of tolerance of respondents towards an HIV-positive person (either family member, business person, or teacher) and the necessity of hiding the HIV-positive status of a family member. A total of 72 percent of respondents said they were ready to take care of an HIV-positive parent, but only 47 expressed willingness to purchase produce from a HIV-positive seller. A total of 49 percent of respondents would accept having an HIV-positive teacher teach their children, and 26 percent said it would not be necessary to hide the HIV status of a family member. The study estimated a global tolerance level towards HIV-positive persons at 4 percent in women and 12 percent in men.
According to the 2013-14 DHS, the adult HIV prevalence rate was 1.2 percent, and according to UNAIDS, an estimated 560,798 persons of all ages in the country had HIV in 2015.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Discrimination against persons with albinism was widespread and limited their ability to marry and to obtain employment, health care, and education. Families and communities frequently ostracized persons with albinism.
In most cases Mai-Mai RMGs were originally formed as voluntary local self-defense militias, either to protect their families in the absence of the SSF or against abusive SSF personnel. There were also reports of spontaneous mobs responding to crimes and perceived attacks. Longstanding ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. For example, in August a mob in Butembo in the east removed two women from a public bus to kill them and set them on fire. The mob reportedly targeted the two women because it believed them to be Hutus involved with ADF rebels.