Whole families are forced to leave Rwanda's struggling north. Boys look for work at an early age; the girls, instead, all too often are pushed to get married across the border in Uganda.
REMERA - The citizens in this northern region of Rwanda have too many children and not enough arable land.
Small children eat sweet potatoes amid houses in Remera that are cramped together. Their parents work the fields during the morning hours, while afternoons for the adults are often spent in the cafes for men, and outside chatting in groups for the women.
“After farming, we rest,” says one man. But the truth is that in the Musanze district’s farming sector, yields are very small and typically do not require a full day’s work. The lack of productive agriculture or industry means that more and more of the population prefer to find work in other regions so they can feed their families.
East of here, land is less populated, and demand for farming-related labor is higher. There is also more fertile space open to cultivation. But too often, those who go are quite young. “We notice more and more children who leave school,” says Dusingize Jeanne Providence, a teacher in Remera. “Their classmates tell us they moved to the East with their families.”
Young girls, old husbands
The girls, for their part, go to Uganda where they may have the chance to marry older rich men capable of caring for their financial needs. “They accept being concubines,” says a sister of the Charity Centre of Remera. “Imagine a 20-year-old girl as the fourth or fifth woman of some old man.”
A few years ago, Clémentine Muhawenayo remembers, some shady operators started taking advantage of the situation — seeing a business model in these desperate attempts to have financial security and charging a commission from girls who were looking for a husband. “Once they would arrive there, they would get their dowry saying they were members of the family,” Muhawenayo says.
The girls who want to avoid getting married so early go look for a job in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, some 100 kilometers away, or in the neighboring small towns where they may become housekeepers. The boys who find work in construction sites in cities around the country often are able to help their siblings back at home.
The massive number of departures from Remera is linked to the lack of land in the region relative to the growing population. Most of the inhabitants still believe “Harera Imana,” or that God feeds. They believe children bring wealth, and so the average number of children in the region is five or six per family, which makes for a dense population. The latest regional census in August 2012 put the population density of Remera at 739 inhabitants per square kilometer, compared to the national number of 416 inhabitants per square kilometer.