Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rwanda: Driven by Poverty Mothers Throw Away Their Infants

By Régine Kapinga and Nekwa Makwal

Matadi, March 13, 2009--Driven by poverty, some mothers from Huye in southern Rwanda, mostly home baby sitters in the city and poor rural women get rid of their babies at birth. To dissuade them the mayor of Butare has recently instituted a mandatory monitoring service for all pregnant women.

Every two months, there is at least a baby that is thrown into the streets of Butare, the largest city in the south of Rwanda, according to official sources. According to Aloysia Nyiransabimana, vice mayor in charge of Social Affairs in Butare, since she was appointed to this post 7 months ago, four women have been arrested and put in jail for having got rid of their babies. "These babies are thrown into the streets by some home baby sitters who cannot afford to feed them and by women who failed to meet the family planning requirements," said Justin Habyarimana, coordinator of the Buseni cell, district of Butare. Among those jailed, two were home baby sitters.

In Butare, home baby sitters receive a pittance of about 5, 000 Rwandan Francs ($ 9). "With less than ten dollars a month, no home baby sitter can raise a child," said one of them met at her workplace. According to Justin Habyarimana, "some of these home baby sitters are made pregnant by their bosses." Most of the cases he handles are incidents between home baby sitters and their bosses. "They abuse them in exchange for money," angrily said Nyemba Josephine, a psychologist from Tumba (a neglected suburban area of Butare), responsible for the psychosocial treatment of these women. "When they give birth, some of these girls throw away their babies, they do so with the hope that their babies might end up in the hands of a "good samaritan" who could take care of them in an orphanage center, instead of starving at home," she said.

"Most of the Rwandan families live on less than a dollar a day, a situation that leads many women to throw away their children," added Josephine Nyemba. She trains about 300 families belonging to the Restoration Church, the Awakening Church. Besides poverty, girls are also afraid of being rejected by the Rwandan society and tarnishing their chances of getting married. "In our culture, boys do not marry girls who have a child out of wedlock," said Jean Paul Maniraho, journalist at Salus, a private radio from the University of Butare.

Monitoring pregnant women

Eugenia Wamaguro, a woman from Tumba, shyly speaking in front of her home baby sitter, nicely said: "getting pregnant is not a fatality, it would therefore be better for these girls to keep their children”. Cases of abandoned infants are numerous and far from being all known by local authorities. "Some orphanage centers or families pick them up without informing the authorities," said the psychologist. Three of them have been recently picked up by the orphanage Mercy, in Kaba, district of Butare.

“To encourage home baby sitters to keep their children, we do a door- to-door training to explain that a home baby sitter’s child may grow up to become one day the President of Rwanda,” said Rachid Kabundi, a social health care worker at the community healthcare center of the National University of Rwanda. "We make it clear that from now on, any woman who hides her pregnancy to the public will be brought to justice."

Similarly, in rural areas where numerous large families live with increasing poverty, the local authorities have recently strengthened the enforcement of pregnant women monitoring. In every community healthcare center, it has been three years now, that two healthcare workers have been instructed to monitor pregnant women for their entire pregnancy period. "Since the beginning of this year, we teach them how to plan their family size according to their financial means," said Rachid Kabundi. "Women are required to attend the prenatal clinics in order to be seen by the public. This strategy is some how bearing fruits: No case of child abandonment has been reported so far these past two months," confirmed Aloysia Nyiransabimana, Deputy Mayor for Social Affairs in Butare.

Two women who have thrown away their babies are currently languishing in jail. "This is a penalty aimed at discouraging other women,” said Aloysia Nyiransabimana. However, these drastic measures will not solve the problem, which is mainly linked to the extreme poverty. For Justin Habyarimana, "home baby sitters should form a civil rights association to better defend their rights."

This article was especially written by Nekwa Makwala of www.infobascongo on behalf of Great Lakes Syfia/Rwanda during his recent visit to Rwanda in Butare.


Related Materials:
Country profile: Rwanda - BBC Africa

Rwanda: a nation with a dark past and tenuous future - Features

On The Myth of Economic Prosperity in Rwanda « Back To My Roots

Reinventing Rwanda - Los Angeles Times

The man who brought Rwanda back - The Boston Globe


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