Democratic Republic of Congo

Meet the Women Fighting Forced Marriages

In DRC’s North Kivu province, forced marriages are often the unhappy result of unplanned pregnancies – even though the practice is illegal. But parents who force their daughters to marry these days will likely receive a visit from the staff of a women’s organization to talk them out of it.

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Meet the Women Fighting Forced Marriages

Merveille Kavira Luneghe, GPJ DRC

Love Kanyere Lwanzo, left, prepares vegetables alongside her sister, Furaha Joy, right, and her nephew, Mumbere Puni. Lwanzo’s parents forced her to marry the father of her son, but she escaped the abusive relationship and now lives with her family again.

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KIRUMBA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — Love Kanyere Lwanzo was 17 when she was forced to marry someone against her will. She got pregnant, and as soon as her parents found out, they rushed her to the boy’s house in the neighboring village of Kaseghe to arrange the wedding.

It was never a happy union.

“My husband would say, ‘You weren’t my choice. I impregnated you by accident,’” says Lwanzo, now 23. “He neglected me and beat me from time to time.”

Lwanzo and her husband eventually separated, and she now lives with her parents in Kirumba, a village in DRC’s North Kivu province. She brought their son with her when she left, but she says her husband later came and took him away by force.

While she’s relieved to be away from her abusive husband, Lwanzo says she’s devastated by the loss of her son. She constantly wonders how the boy is coping without her.

Forced marriages are common in the North Kivu province and often involve an unwanted pregnancy.

John Mambeya, a teacher in the region, says better sex education in schools would bring down rates of forced marriage by helping avert these pregnancies in the first place.

But pregnancy is not the only cause. Other cases involve settling scores, he says.

“I have a paternal uncle who was forced to marry a 17-year-old girl by coercion, because the girl’s family owed us a cow,” he says. “The girl didn’t want that. In the end, their marriage didn’t last.”

Forced marriage is illegal in DRC, but awareness of this law is low here.

A women’s rights organization, Mumaluku, hopes to change that by making the public aware not only that the practice is illegal but also that it can lead to conflict and family desertion.

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Merveille Kavira Luneghe, GPJ DRC

Devotte Kavira Tsongo, left, hosts a radio show on behalf of the organization Mumaluku, which raises awareness about the dangers of forced marriage, alongside guest Guilaine Kahambu.

Mumaluku has worked to bring down rates of forced marriage since 2017, says Devotte Kavira Tsongo, the organization’s secretary. Mumaluku provides education, training and apprenticeships to encourage women into the workforce, so they don’t have to rely on their families or husbands.

Tsongo hosts regular radio broadcasts and visits youth associations, churches and schools to prevent potential forced marriages. She also intervenes firsthand when she hears about instances in the community.

She tells the story of one girl, a 16-year-old, who got pregnant while still in school. Her father, furious that he had, in his view, wasted school fees on the girl, demanded she go live with the father-to-be and get married.

But when a neighbor, who had listened to one of Mumaluku’s radio broadcasts, heard what was happening, she discreetly asked the organization to intervene.

“We went there and convinced him, explaining to him that the law doesn’t allow forced marriage,” Tsongo says.

Tsongo says she and her colleagues have prevented forced marriage in 8 out of the 10 cases they’ve handled. Aldegonde Kavugho, 50, from the community of Kayna was another such case.

“My daughter was impregnated at the age of 15,” he says. “I threatened her, asking her to go to the person who had impregnated her. Taking up the issue, the association Mumaluku came to calm me down by making me understand that it couldn’t serve as a solution.”

Justine Kavira was 18 when she fell pregnant. It was her mother who pressured her to marry the father of the child, she says.

“I was welcomed by my in-laws, but my husband hated me,” she says. “He beat me up.”

On hearing about her case, Tsongo went to talk to Kavira’s mother, who turned her away. But when she visited a second time, Kavira says, Tsongo managed to change her mother’s mind.

“My mom understood and got convinced. She allowed me to come home again.”

Ndahayo Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the article from French.

Justine Kavira and Merveille Kavira Lungehe, GPJ, are not related.