KIGALI, RWANDA – Naima* was only 15 years old when a man in her neighborhood befriended her and invited her to his home. She could have never known what would happen next: He forcibly raped her and threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone. Fearing for her life, the girl stayed silent.
A few months later, Naima became sick and—at the hospital with her mother—found out she was pregnant. She bravely confessed what her neighbor had done, and hospital staff called local police and IJM Rwanda to help.
Standing Strong for Children
IJM Rwanda's team of attorneys, law enforcement liaison officers and social workers have been standing up for child victims of sexual abuse in that country since 2009. Many families in Rwanda cannot afford to hire an attorney or even to take a day off work to attend frequent court hearings when a child experiences abuse. IJM provides free legal help and connects the family to the counseling and support they need to seek justice.
When the abuser's family found out that Naima was seeking help, they tried to bribe the young girl to drop the case. Impoverished families like Naima's are often tempted to accept payments like this—to them, it seems easier than pursuing justice in Rwanda's overworked courts. But the these payments would create a system in which, essentially, those with more money and power can simply pay to abuse those with less. IJM encouraged Naima and her family that justice would be possible, and they stayed strong.
Within a few months, police found and arrested the man who assaulted Naima. At first, he confessed to the rape, but later he claimed Naima was lying and kept trying to pressure her to drop the case. Naima stayed strong, and her IJM lawyer worked with a government prosecutor to develop a solid case.
An Abuser Flees, But Justice Continues
During the trial, the court relased Naima's attacker from prison—a common practice. But the man soon disappeared. IJM and local police tried to trace him, but suspect he left the country to avoid a conviction.
The Rwandan court decided to proceed. Naima received support and trauma-focused therapy from her IJM social workers. Soon, she felt ready to share the truth about the abuse in court.
Her brave testimony helped convince the judge of the truth, and on July 31, 2013, the court convicted her attacker for the rape. As soon as he is located by Rwandan authorities, the man will be sent to jail for 20 years and will face a fine of more than 2 million Rwandan francs (nearly $4,000) to be used for Naima's recovery—the largest sum ever ordered by a judge on behalf of a child supported by IJM Rwanda.
"It was not an easy case," says Client Care Specialist Brigitte Mukashema. "We rejoice today that the judge pronounced a just verdict on Naima's abuser."
IJM will continue to work with Rwandan police to locate the man and bring him to justice.
Now 17, Naima has begun to heal from the traumatic abuse. IJM has helped her stay in school, and she is performing well. She attends IJM's trauma-focused therapy regularly. IJM helps her with food and other necessities for her baby and has helped her parents start a simple business to support their small family.