A five-year-old sat shyly in her metal hospital bed as her mother described what had brought her to Panzi hospital in the city of Bukavu, in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A couple of beds down lay a tiny six-year-old girl, and further along sat a speck of a three-year-old in a fuchsia hoodie. This smallest girl had been brought in the previous night and had a painful fistula from gang rape.
In each case, what had been done to the girls is remarkably similar. Each was abducted at night from a wooden shack in their impoverished village, called Kavumu, about an hour-and-a-half drive from the hospital over the mudscape that is DRC in the rainy season. Each was then gang-raped and left in a nearby government-owned field overgrown with stalks of corn, sorghum and dried-out cassava; the area is used as a kind of subsistence farm by former rebel soldiers. A walk through the meadow is a tour of one spot after another in which little girls have been found bleeding and unable to move in the dead of night.
How this place became a repository of children destroyed has been a mystery for three years – since June 2013, when the rapes began. Girls began disappearing from their houses during the night while, mysteriously, their families remained asleep.
Parents assert that they’ve been drugged by a kind of “magic powder” sprinkled over their houses during the attacks. Men in groups of two, three or four have raped as many as 50 children, aged 18 months to 11 years old. At least two have died from their injuries. These girls are extremely young and malnourished, and therefore smaller than normal. Their injuries have been so extensive that one of the experienced doctors at Panzi, a hospital famous for treating the legions of women raped in DRC, told me that they had made her faint.
This is not your average “war rape”. These are terrifying, targeted, individual attacks against the country’s smallest children being perpetrated by what appears to be a powerful man and his minions, who believe – as do local Mai-Mai militia fighters – that the virgin blood of girls will fortify them for battle. The Guardian cannot name the man for legal reasons.
For many months the government has considered this man to be its main suspect – and even knows the names of men believed to be working under him. Yet it still has not moved to arrest him.
To read the rest of this op-ed, please click over to The Guardian.
(Photo by Lauren Wolfe)