When she was in primary five and just 15 years old, Josiane (not a real name) dropped out of school and headed to Kigali to work as a housemaid attending to children and doing other house chores.
That was back in 2011.
Months later, the father in the house where she worked started showing unusual interest in her. He would buy her gifts in addition to the monthly salary she received.
“I was working normally but then suddenly my boss started showing me extra love and care, he would buy me clothes, lotion; he also bought me a phone, later on he started sleeping with me whenever the wife was not around,” she says.
Josiane, who is now 23 years and whose identity was omitted to allow her speak freely, says that as time went by, she became weak and unable to work properly.
She just felt she was sick.
“I then went to hospital only to realise I was pregnant and had HIV,” she says.
“I went home felling hopeless and unaware of what to do. Days later, I started becoming weaker and unable to work and was eventually dismissed from work,” she said.
The family lived in Jabana Sector, Gasabo District then but when she went back to see them and seek support after delivery, they had relocated.
To make matters worse, she only knew one name of the mother and the father was only called after one of their children.
Failure to report the case
Josiane says that after she was fired from her job she started regretting as to why she never reported the case to local authorities or any other security organ for the responsible person to face justice and fulfill paternal obligations.
Consequently, she now lives with her eight year-old son who does not know his father and neither does he enjoy any support and parental care.
“My case is that I could not report the case because I felt it would be worse, I thought society would reject me and the responsible person would run after me and put my life in danger given his position in society,” she narrates.
For fear of ridicule, she decided not to return back to her parents so that she could get the necessary care.
She rather chose to stay in Kigali struggling to raise her baby as a single and HIV positive mother.
“I was lucky that I managed to deliver a baby who is HIV negative thanks to the advice and care I received from midwives. I only had to go through hassles to raise him alone as a single mother,” she says.
With a toddler to feed, Josiane says she became desperate that at some point, she became a sex worker to make ends meet. It was not until last year that she started a small business thanks to the support she got from a well-wisher.
She is currently selling vegetables and fruits in one of the suburbs in Gasabo District and can rise little money to feed her boy and get basic he needs to go to school.
Josiane’s story is not an isolated case. Most teen girls, who are defiled and at times impregnated, shy away from reporting the unfortunate events for fear of how society will judge them.
There were 17,400 cases of defilement in 2016 and officials from the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) say the number slightly decreased to about 17,200 in 2017 while figures for last year are yet to be consolidated.
“Many young girls find themselves in a position where they cannot say no to sexual advances made to them for various reasons; others are driven by poverty and ignorance, I personally regret why I could not report such a case in time, I don’t know what I will tell my child once he is old enough to ask who the father is,” she said.
Despite not knowing the name of the man, Josiane believes she can help security officials in case they want to pursue him and bring him to account for what he did to her.
“I wish the perpetrator can be arrested. I am even ready for DNA tests, my wish is for my child to his father and receive all needed care,” she says.
Experts say the low levels of reporting of defilement cases remain a serious issue that takes away the rights to the children conceived in the act but also denies the rights of the girls who are defiled.
Nadine Umutoni Gatsinzi, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion admits that the trend of reporting defilement is still low due to many factors including the nature of the crime, culture and the society.
“The first reason is linked to the nature of the crime. When the defiled child is still young (below 10), in most cases they won’t know what happens to them until they become sick,” she said in an interview.
“For those slightly above that age, when it happens the victims will at first believe that it is their fault, they don’t immediately report; other times they will be intimidated into silence by the offenders,” she said.
She also said that in most cases, the families are complicit in this silence where for instance, the crime is committed by the man of the house and everyone conspires to keep silent not to bring “shame” to the family.
Gatsinzi however said no effort should be spared to make sure the social tendency of victim-blaming is completely eradicated, saying that this accounts for much of the silence on the matter.
“There is something that is really sad; when it happens to girls; some tend to immediately put the blame on the victim, that because she is a girl, she could have provoked it,” she said.
The traditional culture has also not helped things with tales of girls who would be banished from their families whenever they had an unwanted pregnancy.
“You may even know that there is a perpetrator who has impregnated many girls in the community but still blame victims than looking at the perpetrator as a problem,” she challenged.
“Currently we are working on so many campaigns and raising awareness on the laws saying that every person who is below 18 is a child and there is no consent for that person (to have sex) it is a crime,” she said.
She said that despite the effort, the number of cases won in court is still low but attributed this to the culture of not reporting, or where it is done, it is already too late and the evidence has been tampered with.
“But the good thing is that we now have an up and running forensic laboratory that is really helping us to preserve evidence,” she said.
She challenged men to come up and fight defilement cases and report on time, stressing that at the end of the day, the victims are their children or their close relatives.
There are specialized Isango one stop centres where the victims can go immediately to receive first aids that can help them get the medical support to help them not get unwanted pregnancies and contact HIV/AIDS, she said
According to Nicolette Nsabimana the coordinator of Centre Marembo, a youth-centred NGO working to rehabilitate young girls who have been defiled or have gone through similar difficulties, defiled girls become more vulnerable, feel stigma and lack legal services hence failing to report the unfortunate incidents.
“Defiled girls tend to feel more vulnerable and the stigma after they are defiled, they can’t get basic legal support and can hardly report what happens to them,” she said.
She said that there are no proper mechanisms in place to support defiled girls psychologically.
“In most cases, they feel they have made a mistake and put the blame on themselves while the society also blames them as irresponsible girls,” she added.
She called on the society to shun the vice of blaming them but rather encourage them to protect themselves and move towards protecting them as well.
She also called for legal measures to be taken to ensure that perpetrators are arrested and that face justice while striving to protect the victims and help them overcome stigma as they transition from that tragedy to normal life.