Marie Anne Dushimimana
Street mothers do not have a roof over their heads and hardly can they cook for their children. They only struggle to find anything to put on their mouth and feed their children.
Whether they beg cooked food for their children and themselves or they get them from the garbage, they will ensure they don’t starve.
They live a bad life. Some under drainage channels others in demolished houses or on balconies. Even worse, some others opt to stay in the open as a last resort.
Some have quitted their homes long ago when they were still kids mostly because of family problems like domestic violence and extreme poverty among others.
The Child Focus talked to some of those street mothers who are struggling to find end’s meet amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Nyabugogo suburb and they narrated their ordeal.
Life is hard for them. Their kids could be seen scorching sun and there are worries that the heavy rain that is expected will also affect them badly.
18-year-old Clarisse Mukamazimpaka, left her home village in Nyamagabe district in Southern Province searching for a job as a housemaid in Kigali.
Her mother was too poor to get food for her let alone taking her to school.
Three years later, Mukamazimpaka befriended a man and they decided to live together as a wife and a husband without legal marriage.
However, the family fell apart after they had a baby making Mukamazimpaka a single mother with the responsibility to take care of herself and her baby.
“When he left me, I had nothing, I couldn’t even find money to pay rent and feed my baby. That’s how I found myself in the street,” she said.
For now, Mukamazimpaka sleeps under drainage channels and on the balcony, together with her baby.
“We sleep on the balcony here at Mutangana place. Sometimes, it rains unexpectedly and we are obliged to get up and find a safer place to hide in,” she said.
“We are many girls of different ages. Some are even as young as thirteen years old, fourteen and fifteen. Some have even babies under one month old. We live together and support each other during the night,” she said.
Mukamazimpaka said she has been incarcerated many times, and she was taken to Kigali Transit Centre. Whenever she was released, she returned to the street.
Mariam Nindamyimana 20, a mother of a two and half-year-old child said they search dustbins and garbage around Nyabugogo markets and its surroundings to find some commodities like vegetables thrown and they sell them.
The father of her kid is serving a 25-year- sentence after he was convicted of rape.
“I can find Rfw1,000 per day and I buy food from the restaurant to eat with my baby. There is no dream beyond that,” she said.
When the babies are sick?
“I can buy her some soft medicines like paracetamol, or I take her to the hospital. They receive us and after giving us all the necessary treatment and they find that we can’t pay, they keep us there. I remember last time I passed like two months at Muhima Hospital, and I got out when charitable people paid for me,” she said.
When the day becomes fruitful and they find more money, these mothers pay a night’s rent for their babies, especially in the rainy season.
“Sometimes, I pay Rfw500, to someone who has a shelter, and they give my child a bed and I struggle alone to find a shelter too,” he said.
“There is a place where I used to sleep, it was a house under construction. One day the owner got aware that I slept there with my child, he chased me out saying that it might fall on me and cause dangers for him,” he sadly narrated.
Life got worse with COVID-19
Life got worse among street mothers since when the country recorded the first case of COVID-19.
During the lockdown, they say they could hardly find something to eat and feed their toddlers.
“I remember when they locked up, the next morning streets and markets were like deserts. It was very hard to find even food,” Mukamazimpaka said.
While other people remained at their homes, these mothers and their children were obliged to remain under drainage channels and demolished houses to avoid COVID-19 preventive measures violation.
“We learnt that other vulnerable people have been supported with foods during the lockdown but for us, no one thinks about us. We live only by God’s mercy,” she added.
“Before we could find some money and buy food for our children but it is no longer possible. we struggle to survive by picking in the dustbins,” she said.
Emmy Ngabonziza, Nyarugenge District Executive Administrator said recently in joint effort with the Ministry of Local Government, Police and City of Kigali, the most vulnerable street kids and mothers were taken to their families.
Others, he said, are being investigated so as to find their real identity, and find the durable solution to this matter.
“The durable solution consists of returning them to their families so that all support can get be delivered there. These water channels and bushes are not their homes,” he said.
“They don’t have to be a burden to the nation and a bad example to the youth as well. It is a bad behavior which we have to fight with all of our efforts, and I’m sure it will end,” he added.
Jean Nepomuscene Ngwije from National Rehabilitation Services Told the Child Focus that since March 2020, they initiated a strong campaign to get all children and street mothers off the streets.
Due to COVID-19, the campaign was stopped and reopened in May in all 30 districts.
Since then over 2,000 children and street mothers have been pulled out of streets, some have been taken to their families, while others have been taken into Rehabilitation centers.
However, the first durable solution remains in their families, and parents are crucial in the fight and end of juvenile delinquency, said Ngwije.
“We work together with the task force at Village level made up with Friends of family (Inshuti z’Umuryango), Village Leader and leader in charge of Security.
“They all help us to get information on the families whose children are in the streets and the reasons behind their departure and we focus on clearing the environment so that when the kids are back to their families, they remain there,” Said Ngwije.
“Rehabilitation comes as the last solution after attempting all means to help them from their families, he said.
In this line, Gitagata Rehabilitation Centre which used to receive street boys was renovated to receive and train delinquent girls and women as well as their children.
Ngwije told The Child Focus that as for now 98 street girls and mothers are being trained in various hands-on skills including Tailoring and hairdressing.
Recently, more 190 street children including street mothers have been taken to Gitagata for rehabilitation, he added.
According to the National Children Commission statistics of two years ago, there were around 2,800 street children, within Kigali City only.
Besides, 78,000 teenagers gave birth between 2016 and 2019, according to the Ministry of Health