Sexual Harassment: A young woman s tale
At the entrance of Nyarugenge market in the capital Kigali, I found Rwiza Priscilla. Devoid of emotion, her huge bloodshot eyes bore into mine like those of a wounded animal ready to pounce. As I fished into my big bag for a slice of bread, Rwiza suspiciously looked up, and for a minute, I was afraid that she was going to strike at me with her long, dirty finger nails.
Finally fishing out the crumb of bread, scary, gurgle-like sounds escaped her mouth at almost the same time that her arm shot up to grab the bread.
I was shaken and struck by the hunger and pain that was part of this young and vulnerable girl s life.
Only much later, after ordering for a plate of vegetables and a glass of milk did she set out to tell me her story.
I m 17 years old and I have been living in Kigali for the past four years, she said. I was living with my grandmother and my kid brother in Kigali Ngali (rural Kigali) till 2001 when my grandma died. My brother and I came here to look for a living, she said amidst mouthfuls.
On the verge of asking my question about HIV/AIDS, Sexually Transmitted Diseases and sexual harassment, Rwiza interrupted my thoughts with a question, Have you ever lived on the streets? No , I shook my head. It is hard. Very, very hard, she said as if addressing nobody in particular.
My life here has been very bad. You cannot understand unless you have been on the streets before, she said
A family friend first defiled Rwiza at the age of 8 just as the 1994 genocide was coming to an end. She was cautioned by her grandmother not to tell anybody lest the whole village pointed fingers. Her grandmother at the time was also of the opinion that nobody would pay attention to her minor claims since the country was a total mess after the horrific genocide.
Rwiza has been repeatedly raped four times, and unfortunately, none of the rapists has had the nerve to use a condom. As if that is not bad enough, Rwiza says that she has been subjected to violent beatings from other drug addicted street children.
Under her left breast, Rwiza indicated a raw wound, a result of a previous fight with one of the street boys who she says wanted to rob her day s savings.
Sometimes they (other street kids) force us to do dirty sexual things that they have watched in blue movies. And because they are stronger, there is nothing that you can do. It s hard to tell anybody. It s shaming and after all, nobody will believe you she said
Somebody can easily surface from nowhere and rape you or beat you up and carry away your blanket. Even those we help in their daily chores like sweeping their shops sometimes refuse to pay us because they know nobody will believe us when we report the cases, she said sadly.
And yet, Rwiza is one child in thousands roaming the streets of Kigali and other major towns in Rwanda. Most of them have been drug abusers, sexually abused and brutally abused by the community that they live in.
A report released by John Hopkins University in conjunction with Myboboh club in March 2002 indicates that the incidence of rape on the streets is high. The 238 children interviewed were of between age six and 20. Most of them - 184 - were male, while 54 were female. Over half of those interviewed had lost both parents, and 13 percent had one parent
The report reveals that of these, 63 percent of the boys reported having forced a girl to have sex with them, while 93 percent of the girls reported having been forced by either a boy or man. All the sexually active girls and 91 percent of the sexually active boys reported knowing someone who had been raped.
The report describes the street children as being "a high-risk population", characterised by early sexual experimentation, multiple sex partners, unprotected sex and drug abuse
Iribagiza Daniel, an officer at Hope for Orphans , an orphanage dealing with children from the streets in Kigali says that the organization has so far received 14 sexually abused children but immediate treatment and counseling programs have been employed to help them. Most of these children, especially the females, living on the streets are subjected to a very cruel life. Their rights as children are stripped by the local community which overworks them, they lack education, they are sick and hungry. Basically, anything can happen to them because most things are above their control, she said.
Information indicates that UNICEF is currently supporting four private organizations in taking care of these children. UNICEF is also currently helping 765 street children all over the country. National programs have been set up to reunite these children with their parents or alternatively find them foster homes.
Government authorities in 1998 estimated that there were 3,000 to 3,500 children living on the streets of Rwanda's towns and cities. Half of them were said to be in the capital, Kigali. However, current reports show that that the number of these children has grown two fold in the recent years.
The number of street children increased after the genocide in which most of them lost parents. Others lost their parents because of diseases in refugee camps or because of the AIDS epidemic. The parents of a smaller number of street children are in jail on suspicion of having taken part in the genocide.