Prison Guards Make Money Selling Rape in DRC

Former inmate describes how corrupt jail staff collude in sexual exploitation of female convicts.

By Heritier Maila in Lubumbashi (AR No 235, 5-Nov-09)

A former inmate of Kasapa central prison in Lubumbashi has claimed that rape and sexual abuse of female prisoners is widespread, leading to many women becoming pregnant and giving birth while in jail.

Masudi Sangwa, who spent nearly five years in Kasapa for embezzlement and assault, said that male inmates often pay prison guards to provide them a female prisoner with whom they can have sex. The women frequently do not have a say in the matter, he said.

Towards the end of his time there, Masudi was made head of his prison unit, a role that entailed taking care of other inmates and their belongings, and helping the guards to maintain discipline.

Sangwa says that this gave him a perspective on prison life not usually available to other inmates, and allowed him to see how corruption and poor prison management play a role in the sexual exploitation of female prisoners.

As a unit head, Sangwa explained that he was able to stay outside the prison buildings later than the other prisoners, who had to be returned to their cells by 5.30 pm.

“It is during these night hours that many things happen outside,” he said. “Unit heads meet with guards from 7 pm in the waiting room of the prison hospital, which is turned into a nightclub. Lutuku (traditional alcohol) is widely served.”

Sangwa says that money for running the “nightclub” is extorted from other prisoners, “This collection is actually used to buy alcohol from the military base [close to the] prison.”

He added that those who do not pay up are likely to get undesirable chores the following day, such as cleaning the toilet.

Sexual relations are common at the so-called nightclub gatherings, Sangwa said, with many women taken against their will.

“If a prisoner wants to make love, he just has to give money to the unit chief, indicating the woman he wants,” he said. “Then the unit chief gets in touch with his colleague from the women’s unit with a bribe. Whether she likes it or not, whether she’s married or not, the designated women are brought in the evening to the prison hospital.”

As a result of this, Sangwa continued, many women fall pregnant and leave prison with a number of children.

The conditions in Congolese prisons are dire and life is particularly hard for children who have to spend their first few years there, he went on.

Sangwa said that women who have children in prison then face family problems once they’ve served their term.

“I even saw a woman who, after having served her five-year sentence, left the prison with her two children, but was then rejected by her husband,” he said.

Hubert Mpanda, an independent human rights activists and journalist, said that sexual exploitation of inmates was a common problem in many prisons in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, and should not be tolerated.

“The law remains the law and must be applied everywhere where there is an infraction,” he said. “Things are even more serious when these acts are encouraged by prison guards. Impunity and passivity are destroying the values of our country.”

Gisèle Nsadi, a campaigner for women’s rights for local NGO Centre d'Intégration Sociale de la Femme, said that the facts of the situation are clear – when you visit the female unit of the prison, you see many women with young children, whom they gave birth to whilst there.

“How can our authorities not protect our women prisoners, considering that sexual violence is like an epidemic in the DRC?” she said.

Valentin Lumbala, a sociologist at Lubumbashi’s university, says that an important step towards stamping out endemic sexual exploitation would be to offer prison guards better working conditions and pay.

“Otherwise, they will keep taking advantage of these women,” she said. “For guards, this constitutes an easy business.”

IWPR sought to question the Kasapa authorities about the alleged abuse there. Justin Kasongo, one of the prison managers, responded by saying police officers based at the prison are tasked with protecting inmates and insisted that he was not aware of the reported nightclub gatherings.

But in an interview with IWPR, Jean Marie Dikanga Kazadi, the spokesman of the provincial government of Katanga, said, “We are aware about what happens in Kasapa prison. This is why the provincial government of Katanga warns all officers who engage in corrupt practices.”

He said that the administration was trying to improve working conditions for police officers at the prison, including supplying them with food at weekends.

“Also, we have asked all women who are a victim of sexual abuse in prison to let us know as soon as possible. The provincial inspector of police has already been instructed to punish all indisciplined guards,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jacques Ilunga, the provincial inspector of police, urged officers to refrain from corrupt practices.

“You should not be a police of beggars,” he said at a police parade on October 18. “You ask too much of the population and that is why you get corrupted easily. The day we catch a policeman who has the desire to be corrupt, I tell you his place is in prison.”

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