FEATURED: How defiled teenage single mothers are overcoming stigma

Gisele Ingabire in her stand where she sells vegetables in Kabuga. / Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti

Seven years ago Gisele Ingabire was an avid volleyball player at her school. Like most promising athletes, she became the subject of interest from male and female admirers alike.

One day after a match, a man approached Ingabire for a brief chat, but little did she know that the admiration from his “fan” did not stem from his love for volleyball but rather the urge for sex.

“We had normal chats and after a while he said he wanted me to see where he stayed. I thought it was okay and went with him. No sooner had we entered his room than he defiled me,” Ingabire narrated.

Unaware of how to cope with the awful experience, Ingabire went back home. That month, she skipped her menstruation periods. With limited sex education, Ingabire thought it was a normal occurrence in her menstrual cycle.

“I thought it was usual because it happened during my first experiences with menstruation periods. I could not tell anyone. However, after two months I felt something unusual. That’s when I realised that I was pregnant,” she said. 

Ingabire, then 16 years old, was due to complete primary education. 

Her aunt, who was her guardian was very disappointed and stopped to take care of her.

“I experienced stigma and rejection. My aunt started to harass me while at school students and teachers turned against me. But as it was the last term, I managed to sit for primary leaving exams,” she narrated.

Ingabire, who is now 21 years-old, endured a very tough life throughout her pregnancy.

The resident of Nyagahinga cell, Rusororo district said that she only received antenatal care once, when her pregnancy was seven months old.

“It was really a harsh experience for me. The second appointment I was given by the hospital was for delivery. I was so lucky that the baby was healthy,” she says.

She finally gave birth to a baby boy.

Gisele Ingabire serves one of her clients in Kabuga market. / Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti

With no job to fall to, Ingabire and her son witnessed a tough life in the first three years until she met some officials from REBEJO Organisation.

The organisation operates in Gasabo, Rwamagana and Kamonyi district.

It was founded to advocate for better welfare of young employees as well as vulnerable people, especially teenage single mothers, who are often the victims of sexual violence. Children born by single teenage mothers are also often the subject of widespread rejection from society.

The organisation works with the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) and other partners.

“I heard an announcement while attending church services when REBEJO announced they wanted single mothers who needed a psychological support to overcome stigma and restart a normal life. I registered and started counselling journey” she says.

“It is from REBEJO that I felt I was a human being again. What I passed through could not hold me back,” she said, adding that she received counselling, which restored hope in her life.

REBEJO encourages teenage single mothers to come together and share experiences, an approach that has been very instrumental in helping them to recover from their past experiences.

“When we shared experience, each of us had unique but chilling experience. Some had been defiled by their brothers, others by their fathers…I later realised I was not alone and I managed to overcome stigma through the sessions,” she narrates.

Starting a new journey

Ingabire says that before she joined REBEJO, she never used to share jokes with anyone, something that also affected her child.

She had grown up with her aunt who used to run a microbusiness for selling vegetables, something that she says taught her some important lesson, especially how to save.

“I approached REBEJO officials for advice on how to start a business, they encouraged me and gave me some money, which I topped up to what I had and started own business,” Ingabire.

She is a vendor in Kabuga market.

When we visited her from the market, Ingabire was busy serving clients. Despite the hurdles she went through, she looks fit and energetic.

“I am now able to sell vegetables and sustain my family. I have regained my dignity and pride, no longer a problem but a solution to issues that affect our society,” she says.

She added: “I took my kid to a good nursery school and I am very happy that my kid never got stunted or suffered from any malnutrition related diseases,” she adds

She says she earns between Rwf100,000 and Rwf150,000 every month.

She saves half of her monthly income.

“I dream to become a successful businesswoman,” she says

Acquiring TVET skills

Recently Ingabire enrolled to a driving school thanks to the support from UN Women, MIGEPROF and other partners.

She says that a driving license will potentially help her to diversify into another career in the event that the current business does not perform as planned.

Gisele Ingabire arranges her products in Kabuga market. once defiled she now ventures into vegetable business to earn livings  together with her son. / Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti

Ingabire is one of the thousands of other teen mother who have benefited from MIGEPROF support and started small businesses. Some have even established successful cooperatives.

Statistics from MIGEPROF indicate that more than 17,000 cases of unwanted pregnancies among teenage girls were recorded in 2016.

Estimates from Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB) show that at least 9,000 teenage girls defiled from January to October this year this year across the country.

However, reporting of defilement cases remain very low despite, according to RIB.

National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) says that while it received 1,463 cases of defilement from July to December 2017, only 820 were filed to court.

According to Solina Nyirahabimana, the Minister for MIGEPROF, the government together with partners have put in more efforts to ensure that teen single mothers are supported.

“Teen single mothers have various problems that we address. Some of them want to go back to school, others need to go for TVET to be able to acquire skills to create own jobs,” she said

“We help them understand that there is collateral from Business Development Fund (BDF) of 75 per cent and teen mothers can have 10 percent while the ministry provides the rest. There are various opportunities single teen mothers need to tap into,” she added

She called for concerted efforts to fight stigma against single teenage mothers.

“We need to help them understand that life does not end from what happened to them but strive to become contributors to the national development.” she said

The Minister also called for law enforcement to punish the criminals who defile teen girls saying they damage their life as well as their future.  

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