PATIENCE WANTS TO SEE HIS FATHER, whom he calls ‘Big Patience Jean-Claude Doctor’. But the boy, who lives on the streets of Goma, a city in the shadow of the Nyiragongo volcano on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern frontier, has been unsure about how to approach his family. For they abandoned him when he was about five years old.
“My father beat me,” says the boy, “like a man who never had a son.”
Symbols of the intense conflict that has ravaged this mineral-rich region for 16 years, tens of thousands of children roam Congo’s urban alleys. They hide from society yet live off its pity, often forsaken by families that can no longer afford to feed them or flee with them from the violence. The separation can be painful. Ever since rebel chief Laurent-Désiré Kabila, at the start of the First Congo War, took over the country with an army that included child soldiers, society has developed an irrational fear of children. Congo’s children are now often accused of sorcery—inducing murder, misfortune and death—and abandoned by their own mothers.