She is caught in limbo; in the middle of nowhere. Her future remains uncertain. She was born out of the 1994 Genocide rape that left her mother infected with HIV to which she succumbed four years later.
Agnes (not her real name) was luckily born HIV-free and breastfed by maternal aunt whom she knew was her mother and knew aunt’s husband as her father.
Over 100 days, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi claimed over one million lives and assailants raped an estimated 250,000 women which, according to one charity’s count, produced up to 20,000 babies. Agnes is among the births of the horrific circumstances that took a toll on her being.
IGIHE visited Agnes in Kamonyi District where she lives with her aunt’s married daughter since 2015 but she will have to wait for the absence of her home mates or find a place away from home to gain some comfort for recounting her story to the media.
Agnes, now 22, learnt of her birth circumstance from aunt when she was in primary five, following the order by a teacher for all students to cite names of their parents.
“My mother and I lived together at my aunt’s but I thought of my aunt to be my mother until the real mother died when I was four years old. They told me my mother had died but I didn’t consider it much. I started hearing people saying that I am an orphan and got confused because I had never heard of my father’s death,” she said, adding that her aunt shed tears instead of replying when Agnes asked for clarification.
I insisted asking, “Aren’t you my mother?” Aunt later answered, “Don’t you remember the time your mother died? I am not your mother and I only heard of your father’s name but he died in Congo (DRC).”
Essence of trauma, school drop out
Agnes kept asking many questions to her aunt who finally revealed all about Agnes’s birth circumstances.
“I wished to visit the area of my father’s origin to check for any relative there and aunt took me there after days of argument because she hesitated to take me there. We got to my paternal uncle who scorned us with abuses and said I was going to claim land from my father. He told us to visit him again later for a talk. The next time I went there with my maternal uncle, he took a machete and chased us. We run away and I never wished to see him anymore since 2012,” Agnes narrates as she tears up.
The uncle threatened to kill Agnes and make her follow her deceased mother and uttered a lot more scorns that she is a bastard that should be sent back to the street where she was picked.
“Since then, I felt traumatized, hated life and school. I stopped going to school, wondering about my future without family. Aunt insisted that I go to school but I could often sit on the way and go back home without reaching the school. I was demoted from primary five to three but still kept scoring as poorly as 20% or below yet I used to score above 50% before learning of my birth,” she said.
She finally dropped out from senior one which she had joined after extreme failure, featuring in U (unclassified) category at the end of primary six.
“Then SURF (NGO) found me and paid for my courses on hairdressing in Kigali for one year in 2015. I have not got job since the courses completion and my life is a misery. When I lack anything among life needs, I sit down and weep recalling of my history and worry of my future without family. I wish I get support for opening a hairdressing shop,” pleads Agnes.
Agnes adds, “I never wish to see anyone of my father’s family since my uncle chased me with machete while I tried to meet them with love. I didn’t even know my father’s name and never wish to know it. I only know the family of my mother.”
Government pledges support
Minister of State in charge of Social Affairs and Social Protection at the Ministry of Local Government, Dr Alvera Mukabaramba, says the amendment of the law instituting the Fund for Neediest Survivors of Genocide (FARG) considered mothers of children born of Genocide rape in particular and pledged her personal follow up with Kamonyi District’s officials to help Agnes.
“FARG law considers their mothers because children are not counted among Genocide survivors. We are amending the law instituting FARG in which we stated that their mothers shall be supported in a special way to enable them support their children too,” she said.
Dr Mukabaramba said the ministry has always tasked districts to consider children like Agnes in particular ways using social protection schemes but some children remain unknown to authorities because their mothers succumbed to stigma that made them fail to speak out their Genocide ordeal.
“We encourage local leaders to know such children and offer particular support. We need to know that young girl and help her in particular. We shall follow up with local leaders to ensure she gets support. That is one you found but there might be others with similar problems in the country. Let me have her name and address! They might be lost among others in the society but if we find a particular case, we do help them,” said the minister.
She reminded that those born out of Genocide rape are not longer children but young adults who need support for development projects because some have completed good education, others schooling still while others did not get good education.
Emilienne Kambibi, a counsellor who works with SURF and Foundation Rwanda said they have supported 830 children born of Genocide rape and most of them have now completed secondary school. Among them, 27 got early pregnancies including some who got defiled by their mothers’ husbands. With some, after learning that their wives were raped in Genocide and never revealed to the husbands, they revenged by raping the daughters. Some others completely failed at school and dropped out but the charity helps them acquire vocational and technical training.