How much does your birth certificate weigh? Likely not a question you’ve ever asked yourself. You may not know where it is, and if pressed to present it for a new passport, you’d have to go through the hassle of ordering another copy. Such a light piece of paper for such a weighty document: proving who you are, where you were born, what name was given to you. Yet for the children born because of rape in a country where sexual assualt is a common weapon of war and societal control, a birth certificate is heavy with meaning.
May 28th, 2016 felt much like any other day for these kids in Congo: waking with the sun, as toddlers around the world are wont to do, despite their mothers’ wishes for an extra hour of sleep. Eating breakfast. Melting down in a toddler-sized-tantrum as their developing brains fight to accept that they can’t have everything their way.
For their mothers, May 28th was a momentous day. It was a day of healing, of helping to transform the horrific memory of rape into a celebration of life. Born without a father on record, their babies didn’t have an official record of citizenship in their own country.
Six months ago, Amani Matabaro began work to rectify that. The co-founder and Executive Director of ABFEC – Action Congo, Action Kivu’s partner in eastern Congo, he is known to the kids in Mumosho as Papa Amani. And known to all of his friends and partners as an activist and feminist who believes that equality for women and the rights of children are the only way for us to move forward to create a more peaceful, just world.
A just world isn’t born without the work of many, and Amani, at heart a community builder and connector, knew just the organization to coordinate with: SOS-IJM, a civil society nonprofit which works tirelessly for human rights and the legal protection for the people of DRC. Working with a young lawyer named Nancy, ABFEC’s field team researched and investigated the mothers’ experiences of sexual assault and pregnancy. Together, with legal guidance from Nancy and SOS-IJM, they listened and recorded the stories of the girls and women, and SOS-IJM filed with the Congolese government for birth certificates for each child.
The official document holds great weight in legal terms for the future of the children, but for their mothers, that piece of paper represents acceptance. It signifies social standing in a place where most girls and women are shamed and shunned for being victims of rape. It is a picture of the transformation from being subjected to blame to recognition as a member in the community.
Join us in celebrating these children today, June 1st, known internationally as The International Day for Protection of Children (#ChildrensDay)! And consider partnering with the kids, their mothers, and the communities in Congo through the life-changing programs Action Kivu supports:
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