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 the offense was not always reported by victims, and the law was not always enforced. Rape was common. The legal definition of rape does not include spousal rape or intimate partner 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 conviction of rape is a prison sentence of five years, and courts regularly imposed such sentences in rape convictions. Some prosecutions occurred for rape and other types of sexual violence.
From January through June, the UNJHRO reported at least 436 women and 183 girls were victims of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict-affected areas. IAGs frequently used rape as a weapon of war (see section 1.g.).
Government agents raped and sexually abused women and girls during arrest and detention, as well as during the course of military action. MONUSCO reported 148 cases of sexual violence attributed to FARDC and PNC agents as of June 30. The UNJHRO stated nearly one-third of sexual violence cases committed against girls were committed by the SSF. While it was a problem throughout the country, the majority of cases took place in areas affected by internal conflict. The PNC continued its nationwide campaign, with support from MONUSCO, to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence by the SSF, including through the fight against impunity and the protection of victims and witnesses. The campaign operationalizes the national action plan to combat sexual and gender-based violence; however, as of year’s end the plan had not been fully funded and few activities had taken place.
On July 7, Colonel Jean Daniel Apanza, head of the military’s internal commission to combat sexual violence, reaffirmed the FARDC’s principle of “zero tolerance for cases of sexual violence.”
MONUSCO reported that on January 15, the military court in Bukavu, South Kivu Province, convicted one FARDC soldier and one PNC officer on charges of rape. The soldier and officer were sentenced to 20 years in prison each. During the same hearing, five other FARDC soldiers were convicted of other human rights abuses and received prison sentences.
Most survivors of rape did not pursue formal legal action due to insufficient resources, lack of confidence in the justice system, family pressure, and fear of subjecting themselves to humiliation, reprisal, or both.
The law does not provide any specific penalty for domestic violence despite its prevalence. 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 and provides for a sentence of two to five years in prison and substantial fines if convicted; in case of death due to FGM/C, the sentence is life imprisonment.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed some abuses of children, including sexual violence against young girls, to harmful traditional and religious practices. Perpetrators allegedly targeted children because they believed harming children or having sex with virgins could protect against death in conflict.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a minimum sentence of one year if convicted, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children, free from coercion, discrimination, or violence. Many couples and individuals lacked the means and access to information to enjoy these rights. The law also recognizes the rights of all couples and individuals of reproductive age to benefit from information and education on contraception and to have free access to reproductive health services.
According to the UNFPA, during the year 28 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 had their demand for family planning with modern methods satisfied. Challenges affecting access to family planning and reproductive health services included a failing transportation infrastructure, funding shortfalls for procuring adequate quantities of contraceptives, and poor logistics and supply chain management leading to frequent stock shortages. Cultural norms favoring large families; misinformation surrounding contraceptive use, including fear that contraception causes infertility; and, especially, the population’s general low capacity to pay for contraceptive services were also barriers.
The adolescent birth rate was 138 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The services were free and intended to provide a postexposure prophylaxis kit within 72 hours to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The government established mobile clinics for survivors in remote areas.
According to the 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey, the maternal mortality ratio was 846 deaths per 100,000 live births, despite sustained high usage of health facilities for deliveries, which suggested a poor quality of health services. Geographic barriers, lack of appropriate equipment, and low health professional capacity also hindered the provision of quality maternal and child health services and led to high maternal mortality and childbirth complications, such as obstetric fistula.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but the law does not provide women the same rights as men. The 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. Women, however, experienced economic discrimination. There were legal restrictions on women in employment–including limitations on occupations considered dangerous–but no known restrictions on women’s working hours.
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 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.”
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 government registered 25 percent of children born in some form of medical facility. Lack of registration rarely affected access to government services.
Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education. Despite President Tshisekedi’s policy of free primary education, the government was unable to provide it consistently in all provinces. Public schools generally expected parents to contribute to teachers’ salaries. 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. Primary and secondary schools were closed during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
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. There were reports of teachers pressuring girls for sexual favors in return for higher grades.
Many of the schools in the east were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. Schools were sometimes targeted in attacks by IAGs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of IAG 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.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: While the law prohibits marriage of boys and girls younger than age 18, many marriages of underage children took place. 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. The penalty doubles when the child is younger than age 15.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and the law prohibits prostitution by anyone younger than age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. The law criminalizes child sex trafficking, with conviction carrying penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine. From January through June, UNICEF assisted 2,018 children (1,999 girls and 19 boys) who were victims of sexual exploitation. Most of these children were provided with a holistic response including psychosocial care, medical care, socioeconomic reintegration, and legal assistance.
There were also reports child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).
Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, which was the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans, children with disabilities, and other vulnerable children in the country. Of these, 91 percent received no external support of any kind and only 3 percent received medical support. In 2019 the NGO Humanium estimated 70,000 children lived on the streets, with at least 35,000 in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and causing misfortune.
UNICEF registered 2,646 orphans who lost parents to the Ebola virus, during an outbreak in the eastern part of the country that was officially declared ended on June 25. During the outbreak 1,604 children were separated from their parents–either because they were isolated after being in contact with an Ebola-affected individual or because their parents were undergoing treatment. These children received psychosocial support in UNICEF-supported nurseries.
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 .
The country had a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities and requires the state to promote their participation in national, provincial, and local institutions. The constitution states all persons should have access to national education. The law states private, public, and semipublic companies may not discriminate against qualified candidates based on disability. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and persons with disabilities often found it difficult to obtain employment, education, and other government services.
As of November the law did not mandate access to government buildings or services for persons with disabilities including access to health care, information, communication, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services. While persons with disabilities may attend public primary and secondary schools and have access to higher education, no reasonable accommodations are required of educational facilities to support their full and equal inclusion. Consequently, 90 percent of adults with disabilities did not achieve basic literacy. The Ministry of Education increased its special education outreach efforts but estimated it was educating fewer than 6,000 children 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 due to shame.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
Ethnic Twa 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.
Estimates of the country’s indigenous population (Twa, Baka, Mbuti, Aka, 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. Most indigenous persons took no part in the political process, and many lived in remote areas. Fighting in the east between IAGs and the SSF, expansion by farmers, and increased trading and excavation activities caused displacement of some indigenous populations.
While the law stipulates 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 persons 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.
On August 8, the International Day for Indigenous Peoples, President Tshisekedi gave a speech condemning the social stigmatization and lack of economic opportunity for the “pygmy” people.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While no law specifically prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, individuals engaging in public displays of consensual same-sex sexual conduct, such as kissing, were sometimes subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which society rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. A local NGO reported authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses against FLGBI persons, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.
Identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex remained a cultural taboo, and harassment by SSF and judiciary occurred.
LGBTI individuals were subjected to harassment, stigmatization, and violence, including “corrective” rape. Some religious leaders, radio broadcasts, and political organizations played a key role in supporting discrimination against LGBTI individuals.
LGBTI persons in South Kivu Province reported that in 2018 a coalition of revivalist churches in Bukavu published materials characterizing LGBTI persons as against the will of God. The publications contributed to a deteriorating environment for LGBTI rights in the area. Advocates in the eastern part of the country reported arbitrary detentions, acts of physical violence, including beatings, being stripped naked, sexual abuse in public settings, and rape. In some cases LGBTI persons were forced by threats of violence to withdraw from schools and other public and community institutions.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, but social stigma continued.
The Demographic and Health Survey 2013-14 captured a proxy indicator measuring the level of tolerance of respondents towards an HIV-positive person (either family member, businessperson, 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 percent expressed willingness to purchase produce from an 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.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Discrimination against persons with albinism was widespread and limited their ability to marry and obtain employment, health care, and education. Families and communities frequently ostracized persons with albinism. Civil society groups reported albinos were killed and their bodies disinterred from their graves and cut up for use in rituals meant to grant special power to anyone, from soccer teams to political campaigns, for example.
Long-standing ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. During the first half of the year, Hutu populations in North Kivu were subject to forced displacement by both the SSF and IAGs operating in the area. Intercommunal violence between Hema and Lendu groups in Ituri Province resulted in killings and displacement (see section 1.g.).