Feckless Fathers

JAMIME Mugwaneza, was taken under the care of her uncle with the hope that he would help to raise her and give her an education. Now she struggles single-handedly to raise his child.
Belia Yanfashize with her second child (Photo:Frank Kagabo)
Belia Yanfashize with her second child (Photo:Frank Kagabo)

JAMIME Mugwaneza, was taken under the care of her uncle with the hope that he would help to raise her and give her an education. Now she struggles single-handedly to raise his child.

“I was in senior two when he forced me into his bedroom and forcefully had sexual intercourse with me,” says Mugwaneza.

She says that at the age of 17, she was betrayed by her mother’s brother,   who was helping take care of her. Her uncle, a father of six, had before that, lost his wife.
The result of that unwanted sexual encounter is now a ten- year- old girl. 

According to Mugwaneza, her uncle initially accepted responsibility for the pregnancy, but only after a family meeting had insisted that he take responsibility for his actions.

Mugwaneza reveals that a month after she gave birth to Bouduin Ruzirikana, the father left the country and went to Canada.

“We did not know that he was looking for a way of leaving the country.” She says that he later returned and took his six children with him. Since that time, she has never had contact with him.

“I named her Bouduin Ruzirikana because it is her father’s name,” Mugwaneza says with a tinge of bitterness in her voice.

“Wherever she goes, even if it is America, she will always know her father because they share a name.”

Willy Kabera, 27, a businessman in the Kigali suburb of Giporoso, Remera, says that it is a common occurrence for men to either deny responsibility of fathering a kid or when they accept “completely avoid fulfilling their parental duties.”

However, he says some of the cases are caused by women. “Some women are involved with different men and later cannot easily tell who is the real father.”

For Mugwaneza, the going has not been easy. Now a mother of two, she struggles single-handedly to ensure that her kids get the education that she never had as it was rudely interrupted by her first pregnancy.

She says that she tried to get assistance from Save Our Souls (S.O.S) but they told her that they were no longer taking in more kids.

Later, she would get pregnant by another man who also never provided any support to her child up to now.
Asked whether her family offers any support, she says it is only the food they share at home. But everything else like school uniforms, are her sole responsibility that she has accepted.

“I love my children and I will always be there for them,’’ adds Mugwaneza.

Belia Yanfashize, 27, shares a similar predicament.  Outside the offices of a local nongovernmental organization (NGO)Haguruka, where she has come to look for assistance, she reveals her troubles with her husband.

Yanfashize, says her husband is on the verge of throwing her out of her marital home. Whereas, her husband has been looking after her last born child, she says that he is now trying to forcefully push her out of her home.

“I think he found another woman and that is the reason he is trying to force me out of the home’’. She fears that if he succeeds, that will be the end of child support from her husband.

Her first born Leornard Gakwaya aged five, was a result of a pregnancy she had while she worked at Gashenyi Secondary School in Karongi western province. She was impregnated by a former soldier.

“I got involved with him not because I loved him, but because of fear.”

She says that it was while she was returning home from her workplace when the encounter with the soldier led to her first pregnancy and a child.

Later, she got married to the father of her second child Iranze Aleluya who is just one year old. It is this man that she thought loved her that is trying to force her out of the marital home.

Suprisingly not all express sympathy for women who find themselves in such a situation; speaking randomly to people in Kigali, one gets the impression that some think women are themselves to blame.

Venuste Niyonshuti, 19, and a construction worker in Kigali, says that he has a girlfriend but is careful not to get involved in activities that would lead to an unwanted pregnancy.

“In most cases no woman gets involved in sexual intercourse with a man without wanting…” He adds that if it is rape, there is a law to settle such a case.
Kabera concurs with Niyonshuti. He says that in some cases, ’’a mother can say you are responsible when you are not.’’

He notes that most women, who have multiple relations with men, will in most cases look for the man who is better off in material terms and claim that the kid is his.

He says that in case they are unsure, they look for the man who is capable of taking care of the child even when they know he is not the father.

Kabera says these cases are widespread in Rwanda and he knows a lady whose fiancé denied responsibility for her pregnancy and also terminated the engagement.

He states that DNA tests can resolve such cases conclusively; however he notes that the drawback is that DNA testing is expensive in Rwanda.

Patrick Bigabo, a freelance writer and social commentator in Kigali, says that “it is very hard for a man to prove that this is my kid.’’

He says that such cases of who is whose parent are prevalent in poor communities noting that they reach a point of conflict because “some women are using it to get financial help from men.”

Some women even say that they use that to make their kid survive according to Bigabo adding “yes they do it deliberately… they use it as a bait.”

He adds that in some cases when the kid is even beyond the age of seven-the legal age when a man can take custody of his child, some women refuse to hand over the kid to the one they claim to be the father.

“The problem is that women are using these kids to get support because they know men love kids.’’

However, he points out that there are many men who are irresponsible and have sex when they are drunk. He believes that such cases are a recipe for problems and also says that poor men are also likely to avoid parental responsibility.

Bigabo’s solution for such problems is revealing. “Allow culture to control family or domestic relations affairs,’’ says Bigabo.

He argues that for example polygamous marriages will make men responsible, because they will know their kids and take full responsibility, because even the women would know about their co-wives instead of being surprised by the other kids from unknown mothers.

Bigabo adds that if the child is a product of an extramarital affair, the father will likely reject it in order to protect his marriage.

Haguruka has since 1991 been working “for the defence of women and children’s rights.’’

In 2007 it received 2124 women complaining about men who had refused to accept paternity.  In 2008 that number increased to 2182.