DRC_Woman carrying CARE package while child with another child on his back follows in refugee settlement
Photo: Kelvin Batumike/CARE

Cases of sexual exploitation and harassment on the rise in the DRC

Goma, July 11, 2023 - Displacement in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to expose women and girls to high levels of gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual exploitation. Access to food remains very difficult for all, especially pregnant and lactating women and children. According to a recently published CARE Gender Analysis Report, internally displaced people (IDP) in some camps have not received any food aid since their arrival. As a result, women, who constitute 60% of the internally displaced, have been forced to engage in high-risk practices to provide for their children, such as survival sex and begging.  

Sidibe Kadidia, CARE International DRC Country Director said, “As people flee conflict, the numbers of female-headed households are surging in the camps for internally displaced people. Due to limited resources, women have to wait for long hours at water points or travel far to fetch firewood. As a result, they return to their shelters late and in the dark, which puts them at a higher risk of exploitation and GBV.”  

“We are witnessing increased cases of sexual abuse and harassment in and around the camps as women go about their daily duties like fetching water and firewood,”
Kadidia says.

The number of people affected by sexual violence has been steadily on the increase in DRC. Between 2021 and 2022 the number of reported cases of gender-based violence doubled from 40,000 to over 80,000. In the first three months of 2023, over 31,000 cases were reported. The CARE’s Rapid Gender Analysis report indicates that most cases of GBV are not reported due to the fear of stigmatization, exclusion, retaliation, rejection, and a culture of impunity. 

Bimoza* is a 25-year-old single mother of five children. She arrived at a camp in North Kivu with nothing more than the clothes on her back. "I found myself without anyone to support me in the camp. I asked myself what I could do to survive and provide for my children. One day I was at a farm looking for vegetables. On my way back I found a man who proposed that I sleep with him, and he will give me a basket of Irish potatoes and 5000 CF ($2.5). As I had no other alternatives, I complied.” 

DRC__Women standing in long line marked off by red and white tape in distribution centre

Internally Displaced People wait in line at a dignity kit distribution in Mudja, Goma. Photo: Kelvin Batumike/CARE

Since March 2022, over 1.1 million people in DRC have had to flee from their homes due to conflict. This has led to a worsening humanitarian disaster that remains severely underfunded at only 8.2 percent. The global response since the beginning of the conflict has been insufficient with only a minimal fraction of the needs covered. This has increased the number of people who have no food.  The report by CARE, which is based on 123 interviews with people in four IDP camps, found that women have to engage in activities that leave them vulnerable to harassment, exploitation, and GBV. United Nations statistics indicate that at least one in four survivors of sexual violence needs specialized medical and psychological support. The rise of GBV increases the need for more health and psychosocial responses to ensure proper treatment of those affected.  

“I don’t practice survival sex every day, only when we do not have any food. It’s the only way to help me feed my children. I am feeling itchy these days, sometimes I have lower stomach pain to the point of being unable to walk and I tell myself this [survival sex] will kill me. I went once to the clinic and explained to the lady how I was feeling, she gave me pills for just one day,” Bimoza said.  

CARE's response

CARE works alongside partners to support the treatment of women affected by GBV by providing post-exposure prophylaxis kits and psychosocial support. This has been done alongside continuous training with partners and communities in the IDP camps. In June 2023, over 10,000 people received awareness messages. CARE also recently distributed dignity kits in Mudja Camp that included sanitary towels, cloth, buckets, and torches with batteries to help them navigate through the camp in the dark.  As the situation in DRC is deteriorating, needs are growing by the day. CARE calls for the resourcing of the humanitarian response plan to meet the rising need of affected communities. This includes immediate food distribution as well as the provision of medical and psycho-social support for survivors of GBV. 

* Name changed to protect identity. 

For media inquiries, please contact David Mutua, CARE East Central, & Southern Africa Regional Communications Advisor, via: [email protected].