KIGALI, RWANDA When Mimi's* mother watched her 12-year-old daughter walk away from their tiny Rwandan village, she had no idea that it would be five years before she saw her child again. It certainly never crossed her mind that when Mimi returned – brought back to her mother by a team of Rwandan police and IJM social workers – Mimi would have a child of her own, a daughter born as a result of abuse.
Nowhere To Go
Like many families living in rural villages in Rwanda, Mimi's family was very poor. When she was 12 years old, she left to find work in Kigali, the capital city.
Mimi started working as a domestic helper, doing household chores and moving frequently from house to house. Her employers routinely failed to pay her, sometimes for months, and others moved without warning. This became Mimi's life, barely getting by as she served one family after another, farther and farther away from her own family.
When Mimi was 17 years old, she was sexually assaulted by the brother of her latest employer. When Mimi's employer found out about the abuse, she kicked Mimi out of the house. Soon, Mimi realized she was pregnant. She had nowhere to go. For the next seven months, she moved from one temporary job to another. She became sicker and weaker each day until she finally went to a hospital. Two days later, her daughter was born.
Mimi spent the next four months with her premature baby in the hospital as they both struggled to regain their health. At one point Mimi ran out of money and had to move to a different hospital in order to keep getting care. Eventually, the second hospital turned Mimi out because she could't pay.
No One To Help
Out of desperation, Mimi went back to her former employer – the sister of the man who raped her. The woman told Mimi she could give her $10 – not nearly enough for Mimi and her baby to begin a life on their own – or Mimi could start working for her again, on one condition: Mimi would have to give up her baby.
Mimi was out of options. She had nowhere to go and no one to help her. So she went back to work, and her daughter went to live with her grandmother – the mother of the man who had raped Mimi. But her employer didn't hold up her end of the bargain, and she soon kicked Mimi out of the house. Like before, Mimi was on her own. But this time, she was a heartbroken mother.
Mimi still struggled with health problems, and she checked herself into another hospital. She told the nurses everything that had happened to her. They referred her to local police, who took Mimi to the One Stop Center, a clinic that specializes in cases of gender-based violence (GBV). The One Stop Center officials were familiar with IJM, and immediately referred her case to IJM.
Finally, Mimi Had Someone To Turn To
"The first step was to reunite Mimi with her child," explained IJM Rwanda Client Care Specialist Brigitte Mukashema. IJM staff worked with the Rwanda National Police (RNP) to locate the perpetrator's mother's residence where Mimi's daughter was living.
Within one week, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, Mimi was reunited with her baby.
But there was another reunion that Mimi had been waiting for: She wanted to bring her daughter home. IJM Rwanda social workers started to develop a plan with Mimi, and they determined that if she completed vocational training, she could set up a sustainable life in her home village.
The next step was to determine how Mimi's own mother would respond. "In Rwandan culture, young unwed mothers are looked down upon," Brigitte explained. "We had to make sure that her mother would also be receptive to Mimi returning with her child."
IJM helped locate Mimi's mother, and then Brigitte went to meet her, unsure of how she would respond. The answer was more than Brigitte had dared to hope for: "We will share whatever we have and God will provide for us," Brigitte recalled Mimi's mother saying. "Then I told her that her daughter was in the car waiting to see her."
Protected And Defended
Mimi and her daughter were home, but another battle remained. IJM's lawyers started to work on the case that would hold the man who raped Mimi accountable for the abuse. The first hearing was scheduled for August 2013 – at the time, two years away. But IJM believed Mimi deserved justice sooner, and so one of the lawyers started to advocate for an earlier hearing date. The court acted thanks to this advocacy, and the hearing moved up to August 2011.
The IJM legal team worked quickly to finalize the case, securing a DNA test and other important evidence. On August 18, 2011 a Rwandan judge declared the man who raped Mimi guilty of child sexual assault, sentencing him to three years in prison with a fine of about 300,000 Rwandan francs—about $500—that will go to Mimi. After years of being rejected and abandoned, Mimi was protected and defended by her country's justice system.
A New Story
Mimi now lives with her mother and her daughter in her home village in Rwanda. She has completed trauma-focused counseling with IJM, and her IJM social worker Brigitte has remained close to Mimi and her family.
In February 2012, Mimi completed a one-year vocational training program in sewing. IJM Rwanda presented Mimi with a sewing machine—a tool that can allow Mimi to provide for her daughter in the years to come. She was also the recipient of a special gift, a new house with land she can cultivate to make sure her own daughter grows up with a loving place to call home.
IJM Rwanda Director Lane Mears explains that Mimi's story is an encouragement in a difficult battle: "While we are greatly encouraged at the result obtained in Mimi's case – her rescue, reunion, restoration, healing, and promise for a future – the task of securing justice for child victims of sexual assault in Rwanda remains a long and difficult road for us and for all of the public justice system actors."
*A pseudonym has been used for the protection of this IJM client.