The mothers of Kavumu hardly sleep. But on rainy nights, they don’t even try. The rain pounds on their tin roofs so noisily that they worry they won’t hear rapists breaking in to steal their daughters. So they sit up all night, just watching their front doors.

Since 2013, 49 young children, one only 18 months old, have been abducted from flimsy houses in this town in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – and raped. The alleged ringleader of the militia responsible, an MP, was arrested earlier this year, but it is common knowledge in Kavumu that many of their daughters’ “destroyers”, as they call them, are still at large.

“I’m scared. In my area, everyone’s scared,” said Felicia, the mother of a nine-year-old girl, Charlotte, who was raped last year and who sits in silence next to her.

Branded the “rape capital of the world” in 2010 by Margot Wallström, the former special representative on sexual violence to the UN, the DRC has been trying to get rid of this moniker ever since.

Image: A girl from Kavumu in DRC who was abducted from her home and raped. Since 2013, 49 young children in the town have been raped. Photographs: Ruth Maclean for the Guardian

#womenslives: No sleep for Congolese mothers trying to save their girls from rape