admin | June 8, 2020
When the Congolese government restricted movement and gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many abused women and children were left at home with their abusers and with little hope of relief. Marie Lukasa has seen an increase in calls for help from survivors of domestic abuse in Kinshasa. Ms. Lukasa created a group called Forum of Women Citizens and Activists for Governance, Democracy, and Development. She and a small group of volunteers use their mobile phones as informal hotlines to help families get medical, legal, and psychological help. During the coronavirus crisis, demand for this service is increasing. They used to get five calls a week. Now it’s 10 a day.
Caution: Details in the first three paragraphs may be disturbing to some readers.
Four days after the Congolese government shut down Kinshasa’s pulsating nightlife, her husband knocked out some of her teeth and went to live with his mistress, leaving her bleeding and naked on the floor. Their three children saw it all.
A government policy that aims to slow the spread of the coronavirus means that the women known as case K1B1 was locked down with her abuser. The woman’s name is being withheld for her safety.
She said, “When Marie came to visit me, I was still vomiting blood from the beatings.” She is referring to Marie Lukasa, who set up DRC’s first domestic abuse hotline a year ago. Ms. Lukasa created a group called Forum of Women Citizens and Activists for Governance, Democracy, and Development.
During the coronavirus crisis, demand for this service is increasing in a country ill-equipped to deal with domestic abuse.
Lacking funds for a call centre or refuge, Ms. Lukasa and a small group of volunteers use their mobile phones as informal hotlines to help families get medical, legal, and psychological help.
It’s difficult to gauge how many families in the Democratic Republic of Congo are suffering increased abuse because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic, which had infected more than 3,400 people and killed more than 75 in the country as of June 3.
But the volume of calls to Ms. Lukasa’s group has exploded more than ten-fold. They used to get five calls a week. Now it’s 10 a day.
Pierre Ferry is the head of child protection at the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF. He says many women have low social status in DRC and domestic abuse is often seen as acceptable, even by women.
Mr. Ferry adds that, with only 2,082 social workers for 84 million people, Congolese authorities are poorly equipped to help survivors like case K1B1.
Restrictions on movement, loss of income, isolation, overcrowding, and high levels of stress and anxiety are increasing the likelihood that children will witness physical, psychological, and sexual abuse at home, according to a group of UN agencies and aid and rights organizations.
Ms. Lukasa says they want holistic treatment, “because we don’t want victims of today to become the rapists of tomorrow.”
This story is adapted from an article originally published by Thomson Reuters Trust and written by Benoit Nyemba, with the title “New hotline helps families survive abuse in Congo.” To read the full story, go to: https://news.trust.org/item/20200526101748-mrljk/
Photo: Reuters / Zohra Bensemra