Eleven militia fighters from DRC have been jailed for life for raping girls during ceremonies meant to give the men supernatural powers. Picture: AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam File

Johannesburg - Eleven militia fighters from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been jailed for life for raping dozens of girls as young as 18 months during ceremonies meant to give the men supernatural powers, Reuters reports.

Wednesday’s court decision was hailed as a victory by human rights campaigners in a country where rape is endemic and used as a weapon by armed groups while the rapists go unpunished.

The Army of Jesus (Djeshi ya Yesu) militia members were accused of raping as many as 37 girls near the village of Kavumu in the DRC’s South Kivu province between 2013 and 2016.

The leader of the group, Frederic Batumike, was accused by the prosecution of employing a spiritual adviser who told the fighters that raping very young children would give them mystical protection against their enemies.

In addition to the rape charges, members of the group including Batumike, were also convicted of murder, membership in a rebel movement and illegal weapons possession after the court ruled that the rapes and murders amounted to crimes against humanity.