Paedophilia Threatens Congo's Retreat, Seaport City

By Louis Patrick Okamba, PANA, 10 August 2000

POINTE-NOIRE, Congo (PANA)—During the 1997 civil war in the Republic of Congo, Pointe-Noire seaport in the south of the country became an important retreat centre for people and services.

Though guns in battlefields have since been silenced, this port and second Congolese city after Brazzaville, confronts a new war within its population.

Local authorities and the city residents, however, do not need to use force of arms in this social conflict.

While some people blame it on displaced persons from neighbouring regions, others say the Congolese must break with their culture of silence and speak out what they had put under taboo.

In the aftermath of the civil war, it is not stray guns but perverse sexual behaviour that is endangering many lives in Pointe-Noire.

Despite the risk of spreading HIV among the young generation, paedophilia is gradually becoming part of the people's lifestyle.

Boys of up to age 15 are being dragged into commercial sex simply because they are displaced victims of the civil war. Girls too are affected but to a lesser degree.

Their common denominator is that they are either orphans or street children in a city where money is the only thing that counts.

In less than two years, the city's population has doubled from 400,000 to 800,000 due to the mass exodus from Brazzaville, 500 km east, and neighbouring regions, where government forces and the rebels have been fighting.

Edgar, 11, is one of the victims. He arrived in Pointe- Noire in 1998 from Dolisie, fleeing the fighting in the Niari region, the bastion of former President Pascal Lissouba.

In his flight, Edgar lost contact with his parents and two brothers. He has since never got news of their whereabouts.

He later deserted the Pointe-Noire reception centre to be on his own as a shoeshine boy.

From that job, however, Edgar could not make both ends meet. On advice of a friend whose lifestyle had quickly improved because of prostitution, he decided to give it a try.

In daytime, Edgar is busy polishing shoes in the main streets of Pointe-Noire. At night, he hangs around some corners and night-clubs to hook customers—usually expatriates.

His co-sex worker, Ghislain, 17, is well known in the trade. Recently, he told a group of visiting journalists from Brazzaville that he was prepared to accept 10,000 CFA francs (less than 20 dollars) for his service.

Sometimes he does not make so much and ends up accepting 3,000 francs when business goes down.

I was forced by circumstances to do what I do to earn my living today. I needed to do it in order to escape from the bullying adults subjected us to in the reception centre. Now, I earn some money to eat and buy a few things, clothes, for example, he added.

Referring to his won experience, Edgar said: I sometimes come across a kind man, who gives me a lot of money without sleeping with me or a vicious man who makes me suffer and abandons me in the street.

His slightly older friend, Christian, added: Our customers are essentially white, but there are also Africans, including Congolese, 18 years old and more.

Patou, whose retired father lives in Brazzaville, depends on prostitution for survival.

I don't steal people's belongings. The rest is nobody's business...I use my body as I wish, he said.

Many Pointe-Noire children with no means of support are not aware of the consequences of their sexual behaviour. They openly admit being homosexuals and that they engage in sex without using condoms.

I submit to the client's will, using a condom or not depends entirely on him. All I need is money, Ghislain said, agreeing with his friends that they had never undergone test for AIDS.

According to him, many young homosexuals in Pointe-Noire suffer from piles. Those who are courageous enough to talk to the more experienced are given advice, but most of them keep quiet and continue to suffer he said.

I know roots and other products, permanganate of potassium, for example, that are very efficient in the treatment of anal wounds, he added, noting that anal penetration is very dangerous, especially for children.

Paedophilia is a real problem in Pointe-Noire and authorities are getting worried about it. The city mayor, Luc Makosso, is conscious of the existence of this blight, which has taken disturbing proportions since the arrival of displaced persons.

We are working out a strategy to curb its progress, he told the journalists.

Jean-Jacques Moukyama Mbelli, the city's socio-cultural service director, was more specific. Paedophilia, according to him, affects seven to 15-year-old children.

I live at a junction of three major night clubs in the city centre and I am in a position to say so. Everyday, I see children furtively picked up by foreigners, mostly whites, he added.

He said the city council has not been able to tackle the problem effectively because it lacks parents' co-operation.

We have collected lots of stories from children and we have also had discussions with some of the adults perpetrating these act, but we are still helpless because of the lack of collaboration from parents. We cannot discuss with them such a taboo issue—homosexuality, he said.

Judicial authorities as well cannot clamp down on the phenomenon because there are no complaints.

In Congo, we prefer to hush up matters of this nature that are likely to discredit the whole family, magistrate Catherine Mantissa said.

She deals with cases involving minors at the Pointe-Noire higher level court. As a parent, she had a harsh message to potential paedophiles: I have young boys. I think there is need to severely punish adults found guilty of this crime.