KIGALI, RWANDA – Last month, a Rwandan judge took a powerful stand for vulnerable children like Colette* by sentencing the man who raped her to life in prison. It was the strongest sentence possible under the law—letting others will know that abusing children is a serious crime that will not be tolerated.
In October 2012, 10-year-old Colette was playing with friends when an adult neighbor called her over to his home. Not wanting to disobey an adult, she followed the man inside. But it was a trap: He attacked Colette and violently raped her. Then he threatened to beat the little girl if she told anyone. Scared and badly hurt, Colette suffered in silence.
A week later, another neighbor noticed that Colette was in pain and told the girl's mother. As her parents consoled her, Colette finally spoke up about the shocking abuse. Heartbroken, Colette's parents took her immediately to police and to a local hospital. The man was arrested, but denied everything. Nurses at the trauma center knew Colette's family would need help, so they helped refer her to IJM Rwanda.
Right away, IJM attorneys worked with local prosecutors to build a solid case against Colette's attacker. Social workers helped Colette gain confidence to share the truth about what happened in court, and Colette's mother stepped forward to testify about her daughter's physical injuries.
With their brave words and an official medical report confirming the abuse, the judge convicted Colette's abuser on December 21, 2012, and sentenced him to life in prison—the maximum penalty possible under the law.
As IJM social workers sat beside him in the courtroom, Colette's father was clearly relieved by the decision, saying, "God has seen our tears."
"We are very pleased that Colette received justice and can rest assured that she will be safe from this perpetrator for the rest of her life," says IJM Rwanda Senior Legal Consultant James Nuwagaba. "We hope this [conviction] acts as a deterrent to others who would rape children—as the message is clear that Rwandan courts are willing and legally able to send you to prison for life if you rape a child."
IJM social workers will continue to walk with Colette and her family through a trauma-focused therapy program to help her heal from the abuse. With her attacker now behind bars, Colette can begin to heal, and other children like her may never be abused.