Democratic Republic of Congo

Sex in Kirumba: When Poverty Forces Values to Change

A monthly column featuring stories on the nuances and realities of life in Kirumba, Democratic Republic of Congo.

KIRUMBA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — It wasn’t too long ago that sex was considered a sacred and private act. Virginity was prized. I remember that, when I was 10 years old, my cousin’s in-laws came to our home with a goat the day after my cousin’s wedding night — it was gratitude for her saving herself for marriage.

Everine Kahambu, 75, says she remembers her own wedding night virginity test.

“Tradition dictated that the aunt made the bridal bed after the couple’s wedding night. The sheets were always white. In the morning, she would check for bloodstains, and, if she found them, she would quickly break the good news to the groom’s family, bringing joy to each of them. And then the bride’s family would receive a gift,” she says.

When sex was considered sacred, prostitution was nearly nonexistent in this remote part of DRC. But today, all of this is changing. Prostitution is now rampant here, and the reason is simple: poverty.

I’ve spent the last few days talking with young women in my community who say they turned to prostitution by choice.

Gloria, 20, told me that every day she makes 1,500 to 8,000 Congolese francs ($1 to $5), which is far more than other women she knows.

“I’ve chosen to sell my body because I want to earn money and eke out a living,” she says. “Both my parents died in war, and I had no one else to turn to.”

Bijou, 21, told me a similar story. When I asked her whether she protected herself against sexually transmitted infections, AIDS and unintended pregnancies, she said she earns more money if she doesn’t insist on protection.

“Some clients give us more money for sex without a condom,” she says. “The money I earn from prostitution helps me afford some of my basic needs, such as food, soap or body lotion.”

The pains of our insolvent economy are many. I worry that our children don’t see a future for themselves. I worry that their options for survival require danger, whether joining a rebel group or becoming a prostitute.

Ndahayo Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the column from French.