Martine, 16, lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the world’s most dangerous places. Children living through conflict and disaster face extreme levels of abuse, exploitation and violence. Thanks to a child parliament organized by World Vision, this smart and energetic teenager has a bright future as an advocate for other vulnerable children.
As a member of the child parliament I focus on the rights of girls and their well-being.
I’m involved because I myself am a victim. After my father died, the rest of the family didn’t accept us. We did not get the inheritance because my father only had girls. My father’s brothers had boys and they took our belongings because we were not recognized. This is what has motivated me to get involved, I would like girls to be equal to boys, I would like girls to have the same chances as boys, because of what happened in my life.
"They took our belongings because (as girls) we were not recognized”. Martine with her mother and two of her three sisters at their home in Beni, DRC. Photo: Brett Tarver
Most of the girls I advocate for are from 12 to 17 years old who have been victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Normally what makes girls a victim is that there are many conflicts that have made girls orphans. They don’t know where to go or who will support them. Many end up in brothels. Also, when militia men arrive in our area, when they see young girls, they kidnap them and take them into the bush. The girls do their cooking and are often forced into a child marriage.
Girls affected by war are also stigmatized in schools. As orphans, they are told they have nothing to say. When they see such things, when they hear such things, when they experience such things, they give up and they accept being exploited because they are stigmatized.
By participating in the child parliament, Martine learned about the rights of women and girls, and tools to advocate for herself and others. Photo: Brett Tarver
The child parliament has helped me so much because it has equipped me with so many things for my development as an advocate for children. I tell them that there are rights of women, rights of girls that must be respected. I tell them not to be scared, not to fear and to even advocate for other women. I also tell them that girls can do something, even if they were exploited, even if they were sexually exploited, they must wake up, they must know that they can do something better for the future.
All conventions show that we are equal. This must be respected. In my community there are boys who say that girls cannot say anything. We want to change the mentality of those boys, to know that we are equal that we must respect the conventions of human rights in the world. That it’s not just a theory.
When girls realize that their rights are respected, I know that they will do their best to achieve all their dreams and everyone will realize that girls can do anything and be able to achieve anything. There is a proverb that says that educating a girl educates a nation.
"We can change our country." Martine is a powerhouse advocate with plans to change her home community and beyond. Photo: Brett Tarver
We are actors of change for our country. Something that I have to tell Canadians is that the DRC is a good country, we have almost everything, but we have many problems, many conflicts. But we can develop ourselves, we can be a powerful country in the world. We can change our country. This is what I tell children so that they can regain hope for their life.
And I not only speak about the problems in my country. I speak on behalf of all the children in the world. That’s why I’m a spokeswoman for children. I want to tell you that I will continue my struggle so that all of the things that I’ve said are true. I want World Vision to be my companion on this journey.
As told to Brett Tarver