The tribal genocide of 1994 in Rwanda resulted in more than 800,000 Rwandan deaths and countless women suffering rape at the hands of the Hutu militia who were ordered to kill off the country’s minority Tutsi tribe.
Now, 16 years later, the children of the raped women are facing the reality of how they were conceived. They and their mothers are looking for acceptance in a society that is still healing from the horrors of the past.
One Tutsi woman who barely escaped with her life after having been raped on three different occasions by several assailants, told the BBC in a special report that she is deeply thankful for her daughter, despite the circumstances of her conception. She said there was never a time when she did not love her.
Anastasie Kayirangwa said, “I was raped on three occasions in different locations and by many different people. With the exception of one person, I didn’t know who any of them were.”
Anastasie told her daughter Diane, now 16, about the circumstances of her conception when she was 12.
“Diane had already asked me. I told her when she was about 12 years old. She was grown up. I told her when we were alone,” Anastasie said.
“It pained her. She cried, she stood up and she moved here and there because of anger.”
However, Anastasie says she was able to convince her daughter that although she did not know who her father was, she loved her “enough for two parents,” in the words of the BBC.
“There wasn’t even a moment when I didn’t love her. I’ve loved her ever since she was born,” Anastasie said.
“My family gave her horrible nicknames like ‘hyena’. But I’ve never wanted anything bad to happen to her.”
Anastasie related that due to the stigma of rape she has not been able to find a husband. However, she is able to provide for herself and Diane by buying and selling goods at the local market.
She said she does not dwell on the past and the crimes committed against her, and hopes her daughter will be able to overcome the difficulties in her life and not be defined by the identity of her father or how she was conceived.
“Memories of 1994 are not brought back by Diane,” Anastasie said. “1994 is no longer prevailing in me. Instead of remembering 1994, I think what my children would eat – their education. 1994 is no longer in me.”
“Besides, Diane is a child born in a different Rwanda. I hope that her future will be good,” Anastasie said.
But not all women were so easily able to accept and to love their children as Anastasie. Another mother who spoke to the BBC, but who asked to remain anonymous, related how upon the birth of her son, who was conceived in rape, she was tempted to throw the child down the latrine.
“I didn’t see him as my child. I didn’t love him at all,” she says. “In him, I saw the image of spears. I saw machetes. I saw very bad things.”
“I saw him as a killer, a son of a killer.”
However, she says she encountered other women who were in similar circumstances as her, and came to realize that “of course, he (her son) was innocent, it wasn’t him who did these things.”
“So now I’ve changed,” she said. “Now he sees that I’m close to him. We go out together. We walk around in Kigali.”
Now, she says, her main object is to find a sponsor for her son, to enable him to get an education, so that “when he grows he will be able help himself and others.”