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Casting them is not the solution: Challenges faced by teenage mothers

“We lived in the same compound and he would invite me into his living room to eat and watch a movie, one day he asked me to watch a movie in the bedroom, locked the door, raped me, and afterward I found out I was pregnant.” This is the testimony of Mutesi, 18 years old (name changed), from the Muhima sector in the Nyarugenge district.

This minor got pregnant at 16, impregnated by a boy who was living in her father’s house, and now life has become unbearable for her.

It is deeply distressing to see a young girl pregnant, roaming around in search of a livelihood, she should be in school and with her family like other young girls.

Mutesi says that the boy who raped her was someone she knew very well, when she informed him she was pregnant the young man packed his belongings that night and left the compound. She does not know where he resides now.

Ever since her family found out she was pregnant, her life changed dramatically. She embarked on a lonely journey of caring for her child without any resources.

This young girl says that having a child while still a child herself has brought her numerous problems to the point that she sees no future.

She says, “I was a student, life was good, I was at home with no problems, then they got me pregnant. When they found out at home, life changed, they started letting me sleep outside, insulting me, and beating me while I was pregnant…”

“After giving birth, life became even worse at home to the extent that they chased me away, and that’s when I started looking for a job as a maid. My studies have been put on hold, all I am left with is suffering.”

The same is the case with Aisha (name changed), who got pregnant at 18, impregnated by a university student who was also at the same university as her.

She says he did not force himself on her, but deceived her with love until she trusted him enough to sleep with him.

Aisha found out she was pregnant during the holidays. When her parents found out, they told her she wouldn’t be going back to school because she had shamed the family.

She says the scorn she received from her family and society has had a profound impact on her to the point of deep depression.

She says, “As soon as people found out I was pregnant, they started treating me like a prostitute, at home they scolded me for shaming them, neighbors forbade their children from speaking to me fearing I would influence them negatively, I was really depressed.”

“You no longer go to school, even though the government says we can go back, but who will look after your child, where will the school fees come from? Life has changed and it’s bad.”

Even though they have gone through all this, some parents say that it is not right for a child to be abandoned when she encounters such problems, because it is a time to show her love and not isolate her from the child.

That kind of situation is very difficult for young girls. It should be a lesson to the Rwandan society in general, to be vigilant and to put effort into combating early pregnancy among minors.

Mutesi asks the Rwandan society not to stigmatize young girls who have become pregnant, she says minors themselves should be cautious and not take the same path or do the same mistakes.

She says, “If an accident has already happened, abandoning and stigmatizing a child is not the way, because it could lead her into many other bad habits. Girls, beware of everyone whose intentions are not pure, they might be looking to ruin and disrupt your life.”

In February 2023, the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) announced that from July to December 2022, 13,000 girls under the age of 19 became pregnant in Rwanda.

These young mothers can seek help through different channels. Organizations like Empower Rwanda, a Women-led non-governmental organization that was established in Rwanda in 2019, are supporting women and youth by providing skills, knowledge, and resources that create sustainable change for them, their families, and their communities.

They currently provide a broad array of vital support and education to over 400 teenage mothers in 3 districts, Rwamagana, Gatsibo, and Nyagatare in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.

The government has also taken steps to promote education for teenage mothers by implementing programs such as Accelerated Learning Programs (ALPs) and non-formal education. These initiatives aim to reintegrate teenage mothers into the education system and provide them with the opportunity to continue their studies.

Various social support programs have been implemented to assist teenage mothers in Rwanda. These programs may include counseling services, vocational training, and economic empowerment initiatives.

The government, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other partners, works to provide teenage mothers with the necessary skills and resources to become self-reliant.

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