DRC women forced into prostitution to survive

By Time of article published May 25, 2006

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By Ulrike Koltermann

Kinshasa - A sign at the cafeteria cash register for the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) reminds peacekeepers not to have sex with Congolese women. It was posted after MONUC made headlines with a sex scandal in late 2004.

There is nothing unusual about a concentration of soldiers attracting prostitutes.

In Kinshasa, however, professionals are not the only ones who offer themselves to UN troops. Very young girls also do. The men pay them two or three dollars for sex, or give them some food.

When German soldiers go to Congo this summer to reinforce MONUC during elections, they will be subject to the same rule applying to all UN personnel: Sex with the locals is strictly forbidden.

The temptation will be great nonetheless. For many Congolese women, selling their bodies is the only way they can survive. Often their entire families depend on them, too.

The flirting is anything but subtle in the numerous nightclubs that throb every evening with sensual Lingala music. Young women hoping to leave with a good-paying foreigner wear the shortest of mini-skirts and extremely high heels. Dark, leggy beauties with elaborately-dressed hair snuggle up to men without being asked, or sit down nonchalantly on their laps.

Many mixed couples can be seen in the lobbies of luxury hotels - often European businessmen with Congolese females half their age, whom they feed pieces of cake as a prelude to sex.

Aids is a huge problem in Congo. According to figures by the national HIV and Aids programme, about five percent of the population is infected. There are no reliable statistics, however, because of the civil war that ravaged the country for years. Rape was used as a weapon of war, particularly in Congo's resource-rich east.

Despite the peace treaty, the raping continues to this day. Sometimes women and girls are abused so brutally that their genital and anal tracts are torn open.

The ombudsman for Germany's armed forces, Reinhold Robbe, has warned of the Aids risk to German peacekeepers in Congo. Observers see little danger, though. Even the most naive recruits are likely to know that using condoms will protect them from infection during sex.

And given the high medical standards enjoyed by German soldiers serving abroad, an infection via a transfusion of contaminated Congolese blood seems extremely unlikely as well. - Sapa-dpa

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