It is nearly impossible to fully articulate the lived experiences of some of the girls at Marembo. An exceptionally painful video, published two weeks ago on a local web-based news outlet, narrated the harrowing experience of an adolescent girl in Kigali. Unfortunately, the video went largely unnoticed.
Isaro (not real name) was born to a poor family in the Eastern province. Besides poverty, life at home had been hard for the children. Issues of domestic abuse in the family had made it unbearable for Isaro to stay any longer. So she devised a plan and figured if she could travel to Kigali, she would be able make life a little better for herself and be able to send money home to her family.
At the tender age of fourteen, a determined Isaro stuffed a small bag with her meager belongings and set off to Kigali, in hopes of finding employment as a maid. Because she had never been to the city before, she enlisted the help of an adult who would accompany her and serve as a chaperon.
As soon as the bus pulled over at the Nyabugogo station, Isaro’s guardian took off, leaving her unattended and without help in a city so foreign to her. What’s more, the deceitful guardian had shamelessly stolen the teen girl’s possessions. A panicked Isaro looked around for help and finally approached a security guard to whom she recounted her predicament. What should have been a great first day in a beautiful city turned sinister. Isaro spent her first night at a transit center in Gikondo.
After it was determined that Isaro was not a vagrant kid, she was advised to head back home to her village. However, against her better judgement, or perhaps because of painful memories, Isaro opted to stay in an unfamiliar Kigali instead. She would join the street kids Kwa Mutangana. There, despite a life of hardship and misery, she was surrounded by a collection of strangers, kindred spirits, who offered their company, care and generosity.
But it was also there that Isaro and her young homeless friends would meet a wealthy man in his fifties. He approached the girls in good faith. Or so they thought. He warned them of a supposedly planned roundup by security forces that would ease homeless kids off the streets.
The generous man, wolf in sheep’s clothing, was offering meal and shelter. And not surprisingly, the desperately starved and unkempt girls took him up on his golden offer. They followed him to his house in Kimisagara, and as promised, the girls were fed. The man even allowed them to take a shower.
He then directed the girls to their beds. Later that night, the “kind” stranger sexually abused all the girls, one by one. In the morning, he handed them each a 5,000 rwf bill and sent them off.
Multiple times the reprehensible man would go back to fetch the girls and as had become the norm, abused them repeatedly. Whenever the girls suggested he uses a condom, even bringing some themselves, he’d tear them and threaten to withhold the 5,000 rwf prize money.
Many of these malnourished street girls are now pregnant. As if it weren’t bad enough, these young and defenseless victims have also been infected with HIV. The youngest victim being only 8 years old.
It is inconceivable, beyond human rational comprehension, that a mature man would willingly set out to cause permanent suffering to children as young as these vulnerable girls.
Nevertheless, this is not a quest for retributive justice; for there is no punishment commensurate with the crime committed. It is neither an appeal for restorative justice; healing, sadly, is unobtainable.
If something is to be done, however, it would be to help alleviate some of the terribly strenuous and hardly reversible consequences of this bold, overt and brazen injustice.
The same media house reported last week that the alleged pedophile had been apprehended, though he wasn’t paraded for all to see as is customary for people accused of serious crime.
A crackdown on men suspected of sexual misconduct and abuse against our young girls is long overdue.
And the public ought to be privy to this exercise to ensure that similarly situated defendants receive similar treatment. It is the only way to guarantee consistency in judicial decisions.
Nicolette, a kind and compassionate mother, through her Centre Marembo, that caters to the needs of destitute girls, has taken in six of this man’s victims, including the eight-year-old.
It remains to be determined how many more victims are still out there, lonely and unattended, in the streets.
With girls arriving at a rapid pace, some even giving birth at the center - a baby was delivered just two days ago, Nicolette is running at full capacity and desperately, urgently, needs financial and material help.
Would you extend a helping hand and help rectify this wrong?
The views expressed in this article are of the author.