Spotlight: DRC’s Radio Ondese launches campaign to end child marriage

| February 5, 2018

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When the drought of 2015 caused widespread hunger in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, reporters at Radio Ondese FM concentrated their efforts on programs about agriculture to help farming families survive.

But in recent months, they’ve begun to focus on a very different threat to rural communities: child marriage.

In the DRC, four out of ten girls are married before they turn 18. One in ten is married by 15. After they marry, girls are more likely to leave school, have risky pregnancies, and suffer abuse.

David Munyaga is a journalist, producer, and the station manager at Radio Ondese. The station broadcasts 11 hours each day to about 35,000 listeners in and around Kiliba, South Kivu. Mr. Munyaga and his colleagues launched a fundraising campaign to pay for a series of radio programs and community workshops about child marriage. Their goal is to get people talking about the impacts of child marriage, which he says are devastating the rural communities the station serves.

Mr. Munyaga explains: “What motivated us to launch this project is the extent to which child marriage is happening around here. It has become common to a point that the consequences are catastrophic: loss of schooling, rape and sexual violence, sexual exploitation, unwanted pregnancies, young girls dying because of early pregnancy, and so on.”

Girls from rural families affected by drought, displacement, and conflict are more likely to marry young. When parents are unable to provide for their children, they may see marrying off their daughters as a way to ease their financial burden.

Olive Nyembo is a 17-year-old mother of two who heard about Radio Ondese’s project while listening to the station’s programs. She wants to participate, to share what it’s like being a young wife and mother. She says: “I was married at age 13 because of my parents’ influence. I didn’t know that this would cause problems for my future. My parents had me believe that a girl must get married before age 15, according to our custom.”

Now Mrs. Nyembo wants to encourage other families to keep their daughters in school. She says, “I wanted to join one of their listening clubs in order to share my experience of the difficult consequences for a girl who marries before age 18.”

Mr. Munyaga says radio is an effective way to start a conversation about a sensitive subject such as child marriage. Listeners will hear stories from young women like Mrs. Nyembo, as well as parents, and religious and traditional leaders. Radio producers plan to invite justice officials on-air to explain the laws governing child marriage, and to provide information about support for victims of abuse.

Mr. Munyaga and his colleagues are also planning to run workshops and listening groups to encourage people to share their experiences with early marriage and to discuss alternatives for struggling families.

He adds: “This project touches on a real and very worrisome situation … that affects all levels of society. [It’s] a situation that is considered taboo here, so [our project] will have a real and positive impact to help stop child marriage, at least in the communities where the project will be implemented.”

Radio Ondese is working with an international NGO called W4, or Women’s WorldWide Web. Together, they launched an online campaign to raise money for the programs. This is the first time Radio Ondese has tried to crowdfund its radio programs.

So far, Radio Ondese has raised US$2095, more than a quarter of its goal of $7500. W4 will match these funds, for a total of up to $15,000. Mr. Munyaga says this will be enough to pay for the radio programs and workshops.

He adds that, if girls are allowed to finish school and grow into healthy adults before marrying, the rural communities of South Kivu will be stronger and better able to withstand the challenges of drought and conflict.

Radio Ondese FM is a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner. To watch a video of Olive Nyembo and to read more about Radio Ondese’s fundraising campaign, please see: