Date: Tue, 3 Jun 97 08:17:46 CDT
From: rich%pencil@PSUVM.PSU.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Zairean Women Welcome Mobutu's Demise
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Why women welcome Mobutu's demise
By Chris McGreal, Guardian News, 2 June 1997
[This article has been excerpted.]
A Zairean husband can abandon his wife and marry another, can take a wife's property, can refuse to support his children, and can have sex with 13-year olds -- all thanks to a Mobutu-era decree. It's no wonder that women in particular welcome the rebels, reports CHRIS MCGREAL
(Guardian News): DESPITE the arrival of the new order in Lubumbashi, few residents have considered what it is they expect from the rebel government beyond disposing of a despised regime. There is loose talk of democracy and freedom, with little concept of how they might work.
But one women's association knows exactly what it wants: the abolition of Zaire's "family code" which legalised polygamy, relieved husbands of responsibility for the maintenance of wives and children, and lowered the sexual age of consent to 13 years old.
President Mobutu Sese Seko imposed the revised family law 10 years ago. Some women describe it as the greatest blow to their status in modern times, adding to the considerable insecurities of life in Zaire. Mafiki Yav Marie's life was almost wrecked by the code. "We lost our dignity. We lost our status in society. The code says we have no rights as women or wives and our husbands can do anything with us, even take our property, or just abandon us and take up with other wives. We want our dignity back," she said. Ms Mafiki was married with 10 children when her husband took advantage of the revised family code to take a second wife. That was a big enough blow. ...after a while he stopped supporting Ms Mafiki and their children. Then he wanted all her property, including the house she had bought after he abandoned her.
The law was on his side. The 1987 code gave a husband the right to claim his wife's property even if they were not living together. Ms Mafiki was being thrown out on the street. "I went to court. It took years and years because he tried to say I didn't have any right to live in the house I had bought, or any right to the things I owned when I got married. Under the family code even his children from his other wife can come and claim my property when my husband dies. I won the case because he gave up. But...I could have been made homeless," she said. While husbands who take more than one wife do not necessarily abandon their first spouse, they are often unable to provide properly for more than one family. ...for many women the most shocking aspect of the family code was the lowering of the age of consent.
It outraged many groups including Lubumbashi's Association of Christian Women. Bulakali Marie Immaculee is a member. "In Europe you talk of paedophiles but here paedophilia is legal. What else can you call it when men can take 13-year-old girls?" she said.
The collapse of Zaire's economy has forced children on to the streets, to live or beg for food. Some are abandoned by parents no longer able to provide for them. Others run away of their own accord. While boys account for most of those living in Lubumbashi's streets, girls are the most vulnerable. "Some will do whatever is necessary to surive," Ms Bulakali said. "There are rich men in town who offer girls money and somewhere to sleep. They like very young girls. Some believe that if they take a vigin then they inherit her youth. Everyone knows who these men are, but there's nothing we can do. If you go to the prosecutors, they point to the law and say there's nothing illegal." The collapse of Zaire's economy...also added to the burden of providing for families. Ms Bulakali - who works for a railway company which has not paid her in four months - says her Christian group has asked some members to leave because of what they have resorted to in order to survive.
"Some are obliged to leave the association because they became prostitutes. We cannot condone it, but they ask: how else can we survive? How else can we look after our children?" she said.