Midnight in Kinshasa

Photo: Zute Lightfoot. Some of the girls' identities have been concealed.

It’s close to midnight and I’m riding along with the staff of our night ambulance to see first-hand the work it does, and to meet some of the girls it is helping.

It’s not long before we meet a group of five of them at a deserted marketplace. They’re aged 14-18 and all are pregnant. They’re looking for ‘clients’ to have sex with for a couple of dollars. It’s the only way they can earn enough money to survive.

One of them, Bella, is the mother of three babies. The fourth is on its way. She’s been on the streets for four years, since her mother died she was sent to live with an uncle who abused her.

She left home for a life on the streets. On her first night there she was bundled into a police car, gang raped by five policemen and dropped on the other side of the city. She was scared and alone and had no idea where she was.

The team checked over the pregnant girls and we were on our way back to the nightbus. A queue of boys had gathered, mostly waiting to get patched up after fights, suffering malaria and other illnesses. I talked to some of the younger boys about their experiences.

Of course now rape is a part of everyday life, it happens to us all the time.”

Life on the streets is tough for both boys and girls, they told me. I ask one of them where he sleeps at night. He pointed at me. The bench I was sat on is his house.

One of the boys, 12 years old, had been born on the streets, his mother lived on the streets too, he didn’t know any other life. I asked him about drugs “Of course!” He said, “I take anything. I love whiskey, I’ve had a whole bottle tonight, marijuana, ketamin, anything I can get!” I asked him about what he wanted to do in the future, “What future? This is my life!” he said as he ran off into the night.