I recently read an article titled “Loving a Child of Rape” in the June issue of the South African edition of the Marie Claire magazine. The article is based on the work of photo-journalist Jonathan Torgovnik who photographed and interviewed Rwandan women who had children as a result of being raped during the Rwandan genocide. As you may be aware, the age old ethnic tensions between the Tutsi and the Hutu people of Rwanda resulted in a genocidal manslaughter of the Tutsi by the Hutu’s in 1994.
19 years later the forgotten victims of rape speak candidly about their experiences, which are by no means the same, but are over arched by a struggle to move passed feelings of shame and anger which, as you might imagine, made it challenging for them to love their children.
Delphine, who at the time of her rape was 17 years old, says of her experience “I didn’t want to bring a child into the world from a man who didn’t show me the slightest loving gesture, only brutality. I wanted to abort. But when I gave birth, strangely, I felt no bitterness. I was happy to be a mother”.
Josette’s outlook is different. She was abandoned by her family when she announced that he was pregnant and that the baby was Hutu. She says, about her son Thomas, “I force myself to love him, but he is not lovable. This boy behaves like a street child – not because he knows I don’t love him, but because of his Hutu blood”.
Catherine’s challenge is not that she does not love her son but that she does not know how to explain to him who his father is, as he has gotten to the stage where he is constantly asking her. Philomena says “I’m full of contradictions: I am a mother, but I don’t want to be one. I don’t love this child. Every time I look at her, I relive the rape”.
These are a few of the women who were interviewed by Jonathan Torgovnik and they, and their children, are small representation of the estimated 20,000 children born from rape during the Rwandan genocide. Even though they are a small representation, the snippets of the women’s stories show the complexity of their traumatic experiences and the far reaching consequences of these experiences. The article by Marie Claire is etched on my mind because; (1) It made me aware that while the rest of the world has seemingly moved on past the genocide of 1994, the sexual atrocities, to a large extent, have been overlooked. All this time has elapsed for some but the mothers of about 20,000 children have been struggling to cope with and work out how to move forward with their lives, when their traumatic pasts are their present. (2) This struggle also has subsequent consequences for their children growing up, which further aggravates this complex subject matter.
Jonathan Torgovnik has done an amazing job in bringing this subject and related subjects to light and also founded ‘Foundation Rwanda’ which aims to educate mothers and children as well as publicise the consequences of the genocide in Rwanda. Check out the website, educate yourself, find out how you can help and lastly never forget.