Stella*, a senior two student, recounts to Women Today a truly horrendous story. Her class leader told the 17-year-old that it was her turn to mop the school offices that day. The routine task turned into a nightmare for the young girl.
“I was selected by our head class representative at 4:30pm, when everyone else was going back home, and told that it was my turn to clean the headmaster’s office since it was a task allocated to senior two students. I fetched water and started to mop his office. While I was mopping he walked in and asked me to first neatly arrange the books on his table. I stopped mopping and walked in the inner cubicle where his table was and while arranging the books, he came and started lifting my skirt while touching my thighs,” Stella narrates.
She said: “When I was about to scream, he held my mouth with one hand, he pushed me to the wall and I saw him opening his pants and he raped me. After doing what he had done, he threatened me that if I ever tell anyone what he did no one would believe me and he would do something bad to me. I run out of the office without finishing the mopping and went back home and when my mum saw the state I was in, she asked me what had happened and I told her. She immediately took me to the local leader to report the case,” Stella remembers.
Even today, when Stella recounts that story she gets a haunted look in her eye. She is obviously still traumatised by the attack despite it having occurred more than a month ago. Sadly, this occurrence isn’t an isolated case.
According to article 34 of Rwandan law No 27/2001 of 28/4/ 2001 relating to rights and protection of the child against violence, any person who pleads guilty after raping a girl under the age 14 is sentenced to a life imprisonment and pays a fine from Rwf 100,000 to Rwf 200,000.
The same article stipulates that if the defiled is aged between fourteen and eighteen, the offender shall be sentenced to imprisonment between 20 to 25 five years and pay a fine between Rwf 100,000 and Rwf 500,000.
However, despite the heavy punishments, Rwanda National Police reports show that defilement still tops the 5216 GBV (Gender Based Violence) crimes that the Kacyiru-based Isange One-Stop Centre has received since its establishment in June 2009.
How can we protect our children?
Parents have a role to play in protecting their children the best way they can even before law enforcement is involved. Prevention is better than cure.
“Make sure that the children are not left with strangers, avoid sending them out in awkward hours of the day and monitor the groups they are with”, says James, who has an 11-year-old daughter in primary six. “For school administrators, who I entrust my children with, there is that mutual trust. But in case anything otherwise happens it would be an abuse of responsibility”, he continues. “Honestly, as a man who leaves work at 11pm I cannot be there to monitor everything”, he ends.
Six months ago, Linda, gave birth to her first child, a daughter. “My daughter stays home with a nanny and a male-house helper. Of course it’s frightening but there is nothing we can do because my husband and I need to go to work”, she says.
“First of all, we always pray and dedicate our baby to God to protect her. We’re also grateful to God because we have a great and experienced nanny. We have warned the nanny that the houseboy should never go to the baby’s room and do anything for her because her nanny caters for her. The house-helper is not allowed to go into her room. The baby spends all the time, in our absence, in her room with the nanny”.
The fight against this form of GBV is a communal effort
Reacting to an incident of defilement last year, Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner of Police, Theos Badege, said that Rwanda National Police has put in place concrete mechanisms to ensure children’s rights are protected.
He warned those who involved in such acts, and appealed to the public to work with the Police. “The public should utilise the police toll free lines; 3512 and 112 to report any gender based violence related cases. Parents and guardians need to take the primary responsibility to protect their children,” he urged.
*Names have been changed to protect their identity.
REPORT SUSPECTED DEFILEMENT TO POLICE - ANICET RANGIRA
“First of all, report it to the nearest police station”, says Assistant Inspector of Police Anicet Rangira of Kacyiru-based Isange One Stop Centre.
“You will then be given a requisition form, which is then presented at the reception of the GBV centre closest to you.
There you will be given a number. If the victim has open wounds or is bleeding maybe after rape or defilement, they are rushed to the medical doctor and will be taken to a psychologist later. Tests are made and taken to the laboratory in cases of rape and defilement to offer the right treatment to the victims. In case of physical assault, the person’s body is thoroughly checked to avoid cases of blood clots or in-bleeding,” he continues.
“Psychologist tries to counsel the victim so that they can come to terms with what has happened to them. And if the victim is so traumatised and they don’t want to go back home, at the centre there is a safe room where they are kept under close observation for at least 2weeks”, he reveals.
There are also special rooms for children below the age of 10, which is decorated with children’s toys.
“With a child we get to know the person who abused him or her based on how they react to the toys we give them to play with. Children below the age of ten can’t express what they went through verbally but you can know depending on how they react to the things that surround them. If they even see a picture of toy that looks like the person who abused him or her they get angry will not want to see it,” Rangira emphasises.
He also said that police escort victims who want to go back to their homes where local authorities are informed of how to protect the victim.
“We also do regular visits at the homes of the victims to see how they are doing after treatment and also see if they have not been abused again,” Rangira concludes.