It’s about 3pm as I arrive at GS Kicukiro in Kigali; pupils have taken an afternoon break; the skies are reverberating with voices of happy and energetic children. Among the hundreds of school children is a 12-year old Solange Mukamusoni (not real name).
A first sight, the young, shy and smiling Mukamusoni appears to be living an accomplished life.
In fact, Mukamusoni does not only appear glittery, she’s academically bright, socially active, physically healthy and playful just like any other innocent children around her.
But what’s astonishing about Mukamusoni is that, at the age of 12, she’s in Primary One. She’s academically excellent having scored 91.5% in her second term in school.
Her delay to go to school is mainly due to the dark cloud that hovers over her past – a past of defilement and exploitation, which she’s trying to overcome.
About 30-minutes drive off the capital Kigali, down the narrow branchy-leafy path to Mbonankira’s house, you are hit by a distressing story of Solange, which raises goose-bumps to any keen listener of the would-be protector turned predator.
This is where for two years the man had been sexually preying on underage girl – a glaring act of incest. Solange had been staying at her auntie’s place from the age of four.
The girl gave gruesome graphic details of how she was repeatedly abused and luring her to the bedroom in the absence of her maternal aunt like a sheep following its shearer unwittingly dragging her to the bed and defiled.
Supt. Belline Mukamana, the Director for Anti-Gender-Based Violence and Child Protection Directorate at Rwanda National Police recalls how she handled the case to ensure that justice is served.
“The girl testified that sometime in July 2015, taking advantage of his wife’s absence, Mbonankira arrived after midnight and demanded the girl to serve him food, then later told her to go and lay his bed but he dragged her to bed along the process, and defiled her,” says Supt. Mukamana.
Even when some of the neighbours knew about it, they didn’t open up.
Solange lived with her auntie since she was four, bearing a two-year sexual assault, that even the auntie couldn’t report both due to constant threats from the suspect and a bit of reluctance to protect her husband. At just 10, Solange was diagnosed with syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease.
Solange’s agony came to light when she escaped from her auntie’s house to Gisozi in Gasabo District where one Odette Nyiranzabahimana – unfortunately who had employed her as a baby-seater – observed the girl’s uneven movements, and constant pain.
“I sat the girl down, she found someone she could open up to and she narrated the whole ordeal. It was a heartbreaking story that I couldn’t hold, so I reported the matter to the Police,” says Nyiranzabahimana.
The case file was opened at Kinyinya Police Station. She was taken to Isange One Stop Centre where a medical report proved she was defiled, which is facilitating court proceedings. The suspect was traced and arrested. At Isange, Solange got the solace…she was treated and rehabilitated.
Mbonankira was handed a life sentence.
“The law is very clear, it’s a life sentence for defilement, and this should serve as a warning,” says Supt. Mukamana.
This is one of many similar horrors young girls face in communities, either at the hands of fathers, relatives or men in communities.
Police records show, there was an increase of 86 cases of defilement countrywide, most stemming from family conflicts resulting into mothers leaving their marital homes hence exposing the children to risks. Other causes she said come from negligence of some parents as well as abuse of illicit drugs.
Supt. Mukamana notes that some family and residents do not see the immediate serious danger such morally-starved people cause to the community.
“People should come in the open and speak courageously against such vices. It’s so unfortunate and acts of irresponsibility, like in the case of Solange, to not listen to the suffering such young girls face and worse still not reporting it,” she says.
“Breaking silence is the first step to fighting and preventing the inhuman vice,” notes Supt. Mukamana.
“Issues of unregistered children which make it difficult to determine the age of victims in cases of child abuse or defilement,” Supt. Mukamana.
She further notes that the legal provisions allowing spouses to withdraw cases at any stage in cases of adultery and cohabitation have affected and impeded delivery of quality justice, and also contributed to revictimisation especially for women.
A happier ending?
Happier at Faith Victory Association, a rehabilitation centre, Mukamusoni has let go of the fear of going home and being abused, says Willy Mwanafunzi, the director of the centre.
She has made new friends at school and has a safe home, and holds on to her dream of becoming a policewoman. She says she wants to grow up to help other people just as she was helped.
“I don’t want to go back. I am happy here because I can study my books,” the little girl said as she held the hand of the female welfare personnel who took her to the bus en route to her new (temporary) home in Kicukiro.
Isange One Stop Centre, established in 2009, has been instrumental in responding to challenges women, girls and children face through free medical, legal, psycho-socio and aftercare services to victims.
It comes as one of the initiatives by either the government or institutions, including formulation of legal instruments, awareness campaigns and implementation of international laws, to respond child abuse, among others.
As part of the national efforts, the First Lady Jeannette Kagame, on Wednesday launched a two-month national campaign on ‘Governance and Family Promotion,’ with a call to curb child abuse including child pregnancies and teenage marriages.
Early Childhood Development Centres have also been established in at least 16 districts, to promote the rights of children.