GBV: The silent menace of trauma among victims

A group of teenage mothers are taken through the reproductive cycle by a health worker at Centre Marembo in Gasabo District. Photo: Emmanuel Kwizera

In a slum perched on a slope just below Mount Kigali, is a tiny two-bedroomed tin-roofed house among many similar ones.

Located in Kimisagara Sector, Nyarugenge District, this is the humble abode of 20-year-old Mama Kaliza, her three children, her mother and her elder sister.

The family eke a living doing odd jobs that fetch for them up to Rwf1,000 a day and this is what the family survives on.

Mama Kaliza had Kaliza, her firstborn when she was 13 and her “lastborn” came last year when she was 19.

Having experienced premature motherhood in such poor conditions, Mama Kaliza has a painful story that sheds light on what teen mothers go through.

Mama Kaliza had to drop out of school twice; in primary 3 to have Kaliza and Primary 5 for the second pregnancy.

All her children are from different fathers and over the last seven years, all the three fathers have only brought her grief, for none of them wants to support her in raising the children.

They are irresponsible and so violent, she says.

While narrating her story to The New Times, her story seemed confusing, she would suddenly break into lengthy silence, lost in thought and the more the interview went on, the more incoherent she sounded.

Towards the end of the interview, she would provide totally different answers to the questioned asked.

To get a clear picture, The New Times had to talk to her sister, to connect the dots and get the story right.

Clémentine Uwera is the older sister.

Since the struggle to raise her three children started seven years ago, along with violent accounts with the fathers, Mama Kaliza started behaving differently.

Uwera narrates that she sometimes wants to hurt herself, has worrying signs of amnesia and excessive hate for men.

“She sometimes sits and starts crying abruptly,” she worriedly narrates.

GBV and mental health

Mama Kaliza believes she was not defiled, though by her own circumstances all indications are that she is actually a victim of defilement, having had her first child while barely in her teens.

All the three men who sired children with her are too violent to the extent that one of them got a restraining order to never get close to her family.

According to Emmanuelle Mahoro, a psychologist in Kigali, mental health issues can occur even when the victim was not raped or forcefully violated.

“Even when she gave consent, for a teen mother, in this case, being a premature mother results into intense regrets that lead to loss of interest in life and attempts to commit suicide,” Mahoro explains.

When the victim is young, Mahoro continues, Gender-Based Violence experience can result into excessive hate for men (or the opposite), loss of interest in family and relationship; “that is a communitywide consequence.” This explains of Mama Kaliza’s case.

“As an individual, GBV could also lead to uncensored sex addiction or prostitution because victims feel undervalued by violence, especially rape,” she adds.

Mental health issues do not connect to GBV only for teen mothers and young victims. For adults, symptoms of a mental health crisis can be symptomised in what looks like normal sickness.

Some of them have constant headaches and stomach aches, insomnia, skin diseases, high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes. The latter might be hereditary.

“Some non-communicable diseases are results of trauma, depression and exhaustion that can be directly connected to long-term semantic or physical violence. You find them [GBV victims] always asking ‘why me’ which means they lost value in themselves and life,” Mahoro adds.

Rengera Umwana’ drive

When The New Times followed up with Isange One-Stop Centre, a facility that provides health care to GBV victims, it was found out that Mama Kaliza’s signs of mental troubles is just one case among many others.

According to Shafiga Murebwayire, the Isange national coordinator, over 5,000 GBV cases are recorded every year.

When victims seem to be intensely mentally troubled, they are sent to Caraes Neuropsychiatric Hospital Ndera in Gasabo district.

The hospital confirmed that worrying mental health issues cases exist and are handled through a counselling room, one of the services provided by IOSC.

“Yes, there are mental health issues in both GBV victims and perpetrators. When IOSC counselling services can’t address the issue, they are sent to CNH Ndera,” Shafiga tells The New Times.

For the same rationale, Rwanda National Police inspected the problem and decided to initiate “Rengera Umwana” campaign that will tackle GBV and its effects, among other issues.

The campaign, that is set to be launched on January 21, was ideally motivated by the rise in teen pregnancy cases in recent years and the prevalence of defilement cases in 2019, according to John Bosco Kabera, RNP spokesperson.

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