Domestic violence in Kinshasa: habits and customs hamper access to justice (By Tanya Yeme Muamba)

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Kinshasa, July 24th,  2021 (CPA).- The frequency of acts of domestic violence is so widespread in the DRC in general and in Kinshasa in particular that it becomes normal for most people because of habits and customs as well as certain dogmas religious.

This situation hinders victims’ access to justice.

Domestic violence is a reality in several households in the DRC.

Laurette Nyati, 37, has been married for about 16 years. A nursery school teacher, she earns enough to be financially independent. But her husband receives her salary and she is not allowed to touch it without his approval. “I work, yet I am not allowed to touch my own salary. I’m afraid to denounce it because if I divorce today, my children will be torn from me and mistreated by a stepmother. And what man will want to marry me knowing that I have sued the father of my children? ”She wonders.

“In my tradition, marriage is sacred. It is the road of no return. Divorce is considered a failure for the woman. The Church is against divorce because the husband is the head of the wife, ”she confides.

80% of women find the violence of which they are victims normal

Mrs. Elsa Indombe, deputy director in charge of operations at the Congolese Union of Women of the Media (UCOFEM) affirms that the majority of married women, that is more than 80% do not seek help and do not denounce the mistreatment of which they are the subject. Domestic violence is not seen as an evil by society. Many women are unaware that sexual violence between spouses is illegal and that they can report it. UCOFEM recently conducted a survey on the increase in the number of unmarried mothers in certain neighborhoods of Ngaliema, a commune located in the western part of Kinshasa. The investigation which concerned Camp Luka, Kikusa and Sanga-Mamba presented a worrying picture. She showed that poverty leaves many young girls to the phenomenon of « yaka tovanda », a form of free union or early cohabitation.

From the age of 14, 52% of women have suffered physical violence where the partner is cited as responsible in 62.9% of cases. 53% of women in common law experience daily acts of physical, psychological and sexual conjugal violence and 80% of women find them justified or normal.

According to Me Liévin Gibungula, coordinating lawyer at the Africa Zone League for the Defense of Children and Students (LIZADEEL), domestic (conjugal) violence between spouses constitutes an offense. “In some customs, it is a duty to marry an underage girl. When a man wants to consummate a forced marriage with a minor, traditions consider this union a legitimate right. Uses and customs constitute a real obstacle to justice because customary law does not recognize rape, ”says Me Gibungula.

“In addition, the Congolese state does not have specific mechanisms for the protection of victims of domestic violence. The absence of specialized laws and measures adapted to their specific needs constitutes a great obstacle for access to justice ”, he indicates.

5 years in prison for violent men

Contacted by the CPA desk, Mr. Didier Kabuika, Judicial Police Officer (OPJ) of a Djelo Binza Police Substation in Ngaliema, acknowledges that domestic violence is common in Kinshasa, but it has not been denounced. “There are offenses for verbal abuse and bodily harm. For this, the victim must denounce in order to allow the Police to repress the perpetrator. Often the victims do not file a complaint. Some denounce. Unfortunately, most of them subsequently retract because of prejudices ”.

Asked by the press, a magistrate of the Kinshasa / Ngaliema peace court specifies that sexual and verbal violence as well as assault and battery are punishable by Congolese law. ACP/Fng/nig