Women and children burnt to death, rape as a weapon of war, kids as young as five enslaved or accused of being witches and murdered with machetes.

This is the mind-bending reality of 21st century life in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Brave mum Terese Mema Mapenzi deals with the aftermath of these atrocities every single day.

She said: “We hope Scotland can help save us from this hell.”

Coltan – an essential mineral used in smartphones, tablets and laptops – is often mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses

Sexual violence counsellor Terese revealed how she deals with this daily onslaught of gang rape, castration, murder, child malnutrition and deadly disease – all directly linked to the explosion in our use of smartphones.

The Record went to the frontline in DRC with the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund.

We met the women whose lives have been torn apart in the battle for natural minerals essential for every text, tweet or post on social media we send via our mobile phones. Terese is the sexual violence programme lead for Sciaf’s partner Centre Olame.

She helps women and children who have suffered horrific sexual violence at the hands of rebel militias who fund their lawlessness by mining coltan.

Coltan is a conflict mineral – a substance mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, sold or traded by armed groups.

Terese said coltan has sparked a new gold rush in DRC with children – some as young as five – being forced at gunpoint to mine it with their bare hands. Terese wants the Scottish people and the Scottish and UK Governments to help change that.

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The mum of four said: “Coltan causes so much pain and suffering. This conflict mineral is like a blood diamond for the 21st century. Yet a lot of people in Scotland and the West will not have heard of it.

“I am a strong woman and I have heard Scotland has a strong woman leader as First Minister. I want to meet her to tell her first hand about how coltan causes so much evil here in the DRC.

A number of women have had their lives torn apart for the natural minerals used to send every text, tweet and post on social media on our phones

“I hope Scotland and the UK can help us. My country should be one of the richest countries in the world with all our minerals but instead we are one of the poorest.

“Companies say the coltan they use is ethically sourced but can they prove this? Where do all the supplies of coltan end up? I tried to meet all of the heads of the mobile phone companies to ask them but they wouldn’t meet me.

“I think they are afraid of the exposure. I organised a petition signed by 60,000 people and wanted to give it to the mobile phone companies urging them to ethically source their minerals.

“They do it with coffee and chocolate, why not phones? The companies say they have changed their supply chains but if the DRC is corrupt, there is something corrupting it. It makes me angry.”

Terese – who has met the Pope and Angelina Jolie in her battle to alleviate the consequences of the systematic ravaging of her country – risks her life to run a centre in DRC which helps women and children who have suffered the most extreme sexual violence. Her work is supported by Sciaf which launched its Wee Box Big Change Lent appeal yesterday.

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Angela – who suffered mental and physical scars after a horrendous ordeal – is one of the women Sciaf and Terese are trying to help to rebuild their life.

Mum-of-four Angela, 28, said: “My husband and I were very happy but that all changed one night when the rebels came. They came in the night. They shot my husband and when they said he wasn’t dead, they cut his throat in front of me.

“He was only 29. They raped me. The rebels knew they were HIV positive but they still raped me. The children were asleep but they woke them up to make them watch. They saw everything.

“After this, I suffered too much. I wasted away.” Six years after the attack, Angela still struggles. She said: “Other children say to them, ‘Your father was killed and your mother was raped’ and they say ‘She is HIV so maybe you are too’. They don’t play with my children in case they contaminate them.”

Angela’s wider family have either died or disowned her following the attack. Today, she is struggling to support her children on her own.

Terese, who is leading the fight against imported coltan from illegal mining, has urged Scotland to save the Democratic Republic of Congo from ‘hell’

Sciaf’s chief executive Alistair Dutton is spearheading a campaign to help female victims of sexual violence.

He said: “Angela is the human price that is paid to get coltan for our mobile phones and tablets.

“It is a very valuable mineral and there are a lot of greedy people who want to get their hands on it. Rebel groups and militias fight over the mineral deposits and they use the money they get from it to fund further waves of fighting. Often they raid towns and villages and take women as sex slaves.”

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Terese links the violence, poverty and disease rampaging through her country to the chaos caused by the curse of coltan. The mineral is banned from legitimate sale yet the Record discovered evidence it is still being openly mined and smuggled. We saw one man smuggle lumps of coltan from illegal mines in the DRC into neighbouring Rwanda in his sock.

Countries across Africa, as well as the EU and the Chinese government, have vowed to ban the purchase and use of Congolese coltan.

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But Terese says sales of the black stones help fund weapons for rival forces in the region driving the toll of violence.

Terese said: “It is hard to understand how human beings could be so cruel to other humans. People have blood on their hands.”

Donate at www.sciaf.org.uk/weebox or call Sciaf on 0141 354 5555. Give before May 20 and your donation will be doubled by the UK Government.





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