At first, it appeared like a village meeting however, there were no men in sight. Everyone present that afternoon in one of the classrooms at Ndera Catholic Primary School, was a young female.
“We should be careful and make sure that what happened to us doesn’t happen again. Each of us has experienced the hardship and tasted the pain of bringing up a child who has no father,” one of the young females said.
Engaged in a heated group discussion, they stated the issues that bothered them.
“I have had a tough week because I have only been given days to reveal the man responsible for my pregnancy or else, I get kicked out of home,” another teenager said head in hands. She said that she did not know the man responsible for her pregnancy.
“I was raped and ever since that day, I have never seen the man who did this to me.”
These teenagers are a group of under-age mothers who got pregnant as a result of abuse or irresponsibility on their part. Child mothers are children below the age 20.
Some of the girls particularly claim that what they are going through is an effect of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Martha Mukangenze, 34, said that after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, she was 18 years old and did not have anywhere to go since she lost both her parents.
“One day while I was walking, a man raped me. I did not report this because I didn’t want to be recognized as a victim of rape and I was afraid of being chased away from where I stayed.
“But after sometime, I realized my body was changing and decided to go for a medical check up. The health worker told me I was pregnant,” Mukangenze said.
Mukangenze said that her life became complicated after the people who took her in learnt that she was pregnant.
“It’s hard to explain what I went through because it takes me back to that terrible time, but I finally gave birth. You can imagine the experience I am currently going through, failing to explain the identity of the father,” she said.
Sandra Uwiduhaye, 25 is also a victim of rape. She said that she got pregnant while admitted for a mental problem.
“I was still a student at Groupe Scholaire APRED in Ndera, when I was admitted to Butare Hospital and later Ndera Hospital because of mental problems.”
“When I came back to my senses, I was discharged from Ndera hospital after two years on treatment. But I was confused when I started noticing body changes a month later. When I went for another medical checkup, they told me I was pregnant. I almost ran mad again because I was sure that I had not slept with a man,” Uwiduhaye said.
“I don’t know who did this to me,” Uwiduhaye said.
She explained later how she is in her outlook to becoming hopeful in her life together with other child mothers.
“The reason we are all here is because of the Underage Christian Mission that brought us together to share our life experience, challenges and forge a way forward. It is through this umbrella that we are finding hope,” Uwiduhaye added.
John Bosco Mutijima, the founder of the Underage Christian Mission (UCM) a non-governmental organization, said that the mission intends to restore hope for the underage child mothers in Rwanda by educating the school drop outs, as well as empowering them with life skills.
“We look forward to educating these girls. It’s a way of giving them hope for the future through helping them acquire skills that can enable them to work and look after their children,” Mutijima said.
He said that his organization that started in 2008 will reach various parts of Rwanda as they aim to meet the needs of child mothers.
“We started at Ndera, and we intend to reach out to different places like Bugesera and Nyagatare based on how many child mothers are affected,” he said.
Jeanne d`Arc Mujawamariya, the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion said in an interview that, the problem of child mothers is country wide and the government has put in place different programs not only for under age child-mothers, but for all the vulnerable women.
“This has been noted and the government has managed to come up with programs like Credit and Guarantee Fund for women, training them in bank projects, the 9-Year Basic Education that helps the children of these Underage child mothers to go to school; these are just a few of the projects,” Mujawamariya said.
She also noted that there is need for the population to revive the Rwandan culture of handling, helping and encouraging vulnerable children to fit in society.