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Children born of rape: forgotten victims of Rwanda's genocide

KIGALI--When David, a 19-year-old Rwandan, is asked about his parents, he prefers to conceal being one of thousands of children born from a rape during the 1994 genocide.

“I say I don't have a father,” he explained.

It is impossible to say exactly how many women were raped during the genocide — the majority of them were subsequently killed and many survivors prefer not to talk about it.

It is equally difficult to estimate the number of children born of rape since 20 years after the genocide — in which an estimated 800,000 people, essentially Tutsis, died — the subject is still very much taboo.

“Rape was the rule and its absence the exception,” said a U.N. Human Rights Commission report in 1996. “Unfortunately, there are no statistics ... rape was systematic and was used as a weapon by the perpetrators of the massacres.”

After his initial “surprise” and “anger,” David said he “had no choice but to accept” that he was born from a rape and would like to know more.

“My mother is very light-skinned and I am darker. I'd like to know what he looks like,” he said of his father.

“He doesn't know all the details and he has stopped asking questions,” explained Ester, his mother. “My son doesn't talk a lot. It's difficult to know what he is really thinking.”

Ester, a Tutsi, fled Kigali when the genocide carried out by majority Hutus began on April 7, 1994. She was raped by a militia fighter in the border town of Cyangugu as she tried to cross into Democratic Republic of Congo with a group of other women.

“A woman proposed to hide us in a house but she tricked us and called the local militia chief,” she recounted. “We spent a hellish night in that house.”

No Further Questions

When she realized she was pregnant the only person she dared confide in was her younger sister.

“After my son was born I told myself I had no choice but to love him,” she explained. It was only after learning that her rapist infected her with HIV that she told her son the truth.

“Rape is still a taboo subject ... but people are starting to talk about it. Things are changing even if there is still a long way to go,” said Samuel Munderere of the NGO Survivor Fund (SURF), which helps rape victims and their families.

“A lot of children don't know about their past as their mothers refuse to talk about it,” he said.

Nineteen-year-old Nyiramwiza “decided not to ask any more questions” about her father when she saw how distressed her mother became.

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