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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Harmful practices worry refugee women

CONGOLESE women living in Nyarugusu refugee camp in Kasulu District are living in fear. They are scared of returning to their homeland because of their refusal to accept prevailing traditional practices involving human compensation.

"The continuing practices of human compensation and wife inheritance are among the biggest causes of gender based violence (GBV) and other forms of domestic disputes in the camp. However, we are keen on eliminating the practices," Ms Viola Makame said.

The Assistant Community Services Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kasulu, Ms Makame, told the Daily News during a recent press mission that the UN organ and the government, has started prosecuting offenders.

Human compensation is a culture being practised in Congo where a female child is handed over to the bridegroom's side if the groom becomes a widower before he completes paying dowry.

Ms Makame said that dowries in the camps go up to 1,000 US dollars. She added that the fine can rise up to 1,500 dollars for those who are graduates.

She said that Tanzanian laws prohibit any forms of human trafficking or their selling as well as wife inheritance which is another problem that is common in the camps and the government will not tolerate any more occurrences.

"We are making steady progress in educating those still practising by informing them that it is an outdated tradition but the women are receiving a lot of pressure from Congo and are scared of returning because of the threats of revenge they are getting," she said.

The GVB Refugee Supervisor, Madame Chabumbwa Sela, said that human compensation has a big impact on the culture in Congo and is still well embedded though more and more people in the camp now consider it outdated.

Madame Sela said the vice has many negative social implications whereby the 'inherited' daughter very often ends up being married, not loved, mistreated and it is common that the husband torments her by telling her that she was only given out and has no value.

"For a long time we have left their disputes to be handled by traditional and cultural councils where we only oversee but after seeing the continued human rights abuse, legal action needs to be instituted," she said.

She said that through engaging women, it has been learnt that there have been numerous threats of revenge when they return and that many women are opting to remain in the camps to avoid being taken back.

Madame Sela said that in spite of the mass advocacy being conducted, GBV cases are still taking place though not as numerous.

Between January and April 2011 the camp recorded 35 cases of domestic violence mainly associated with wife battery, 89 cases of violence related to human compensation and wife inheritance and six rape cases.

She said that their biggest achievement so far in the fight against all forms of GBV in the camp is the formation of a men's association who have reformed and spoken out against the old traditions as being outdated and cruel.

"The only way we can change cultures is through men participation and to get role models as we have done.

The start of fatherhood campaigns has become very successful and we hope they will help change the mindsets of many more people," she said.

UNHCR has designed a programme especially for women with special needs who have been domestically violated to return to Congo for fear that they will be abused again when they get back.


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