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Press release

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman decries continued rape and violence against women and children in the DRC

BUKAVU, DRC, 27 August 2009 - UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman met with victims of rape and violence in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   They included a 15-year-old girl who she had met in 2006 during her first visit to this poverty and conflict-ravaged country. 

“In 2006, I met a 12-year-old girl who was attacked and brutally raped by four men,” said Veneman.  “Her story has been with me ever since.  Three years on, she is wracked with physical pain, and even more, I saw heartbreaking mental anguish in her eyes.”

She cannot go to school and she cannot afford to see a doctor.  She is cared for by women in her community who are kind enough to provide her a shelter but sometimes cannot even afford to feed her.  

“Three years ago she told me she wanted to become a nun when she grew up,” said Veneman. “Today, when I asked, she told me her aim in life is the same….her choice speaks volumes.”

Veneman visited the Panzi Hospital, a UNICEF supported facility which specializes in treating victims of sexual violence.   Joined by its Founder and Director, Dr. Denis Mukwege, Veneman met with patients and the dedicated staff of this life saving center that not only provides urgent medical care but is also a safe haven for the countless victims of rape and torture.

At the hospital, Veneman met a young woman whose name means ‘love’ in Swahili. Tragically, her shame and desperation caused by sexual violence has made it hard for her to live a life that matches the beauty of her name.

“This young woman told me that she was raped a year ago multiple times,” said Veneman. “What shocked me even more was that she said after the first soldier raped her, the second soldier took a cloth from his pocket to wipe her clean and then proceeded to rape her.  This happened multiple times.”

She recovered physically but the emotional scars remain.  Then in June 2009, soldiers came to her village again.  She said, while sobbing uncontrollably, that she again was raped. 

“To go through this twice is horrific enough,” said Veneman. “But what she told me next just broke my heart…her husband shunned her and told her he could not stay with her after she had been raped so many times.”  

Dr. Mukwege of the Panzi hospital cared for her and assured her:  “You are safe now, we will look after you,” he said.  “Do not be ashamed, they tried to destroy you and they did not succeed.  They are the ones who should be ashamed.”

The war started in 1998 and claimed an estimated five million lives.  Although it officially ended in 2003, rape and violence continues in this conflict-riddled region.  

“Sexual violence is impacting the next generation,” said Veneman. “These women and children have to fend for themselves as their families and communities have abandoned them. It is critical to create security in this region so that these women can generate incomes to support their families.” 

The foundations of hope are being laid at the City of Joy, a joint program with UNICEF, Panzi, and V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. City of Joy will directly support survivors of rape by providing a refuge for those who cannot return to their families and communities.  City of Joy will provide health, educational and income-generating opportunities.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For more information, please contact:
Patrick McCormick, UNICEF New York,
Tel + 1 212 326 7426;
E-mail: pmccormick@unicef.org




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