Kinshasa girls

An article posted on got me to thinking about the plight of teenagers in urban environments, and about a more expansive definition of the purpose of a Women’s Center.

The following are excerpts from the article:

KINSHASA, 8 May 2012

Sarah, 16, started sleeping on the streets of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC), when she was only eight years old. She doesn’t remember how she came to live on the streets, but thinks it was soon after her mother died.

Sarah is one of an estimated 20,000 children living rough on Kinshasa’s streets, many from homes too poor to feed them, some after being thrown out of their homes because they were accused of sorcery, while others end up on the streets as a result of the divorce and remarriage of a parent whose new partner won’t accept them. According to NGOs, about  one-third of these children are girls, and around 80 percent of girls on the street make a living from sex.

“Some men take you by force, and if you scream for help they beat you,” Sarah told IRIN/PlusNews. “Younger girls can be taken advantage of and get only about US$1 for sex, but if you negotiate, you can get $10 for one whole night… sometimes you go to a hotel, sometimes you just find a dark place to do it.”

Sarah’s face and arms are marked by scars from a fight with a group of girls who cut her with a razor. “When it’s night you have to find somewhere to sleep. If it rains, your usual place may be flooded, and we’re always running from the police,” she said. “If you have no money and have to borrow some to eat, you will pay forever, because a debt on the street is never finished.”

Girls regularly experience violence, but help for street children, particularly girls, is very limited….Many of these girls are raped as often as twice a week, so rape becomes the norm, and they survive by building a wall between themselves and their bodies. … Rape is one of the rituals girls go through when being initiated into sex work on the street, usually supervised by an older girl known as a ‘yaya’, or older sister.

And this telling comment from the director of one drop-in support center:  “We can’t tell them to stop sex work because we can’t give them an alternative [emphasis mine] – what we can do is give them condoms and contraception to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy, but we can’t judge or moralize about their situation.”   

 As Women’s Centers International grows beyond IDP camps into urban environments, it will champion and create options for girls who’ve been thrust into the most demeaning activity a woman can endure. A girl/ women earning money without abandoning her soul is the first step to unleashing her power. From this, the inherent genius of girls begins to flow through the community.

So much need. WCI needs funding to grow!