Worse Off Than Orphans? Rwanda's Forgotten "Bastard" Children

Children playing in Rwanda
Children playing in Rwanda
Jean Baptiste Karegeya

KIGALI – In Rwanda, children born out of wedlock often say they'd rather be orphans. "At least orphans receive some help from charities," explains one 20-year-old high school student, named “ML.”

Hiding behind the school, crying, this "illegitimate child" wonders what sin she has committed to deserve to be so mistreated -- even by her mother. She has no school books, no supplies, and she is regularly sent home from school to get the tuition fees that her mother's husband refuses to pay.

"At home, I am treated like a maid. I only eat when I cook. When someone else cooks dinner, I have to go to bed on an empty stomach. They make me do all the house chores," says the young woman, sobbing. She wishes that her mother did not see her as a burden.

Alice, 15, is in the same situation, although she benefits from the sympathy of her father, who rents a separate house for her, so that she can avoid being treated badly by her mother. But, "aside from the rent, school fees and some school supplies, I need to pay all the other expenses, cook my meals, take care of my house..." explains the teen.

JCH, 14, also lives alone, working as an assistant builder during school holidays and weekends to survive. "I don't get social security because the head of the village would not register me as an indigent youth, since he says he knows my father well."

The high price of free education

The principal of a local public school says, "Most of these "illegitimate" children fall asleep in class, because they haven’t had enough food or sleep. Some can’t concentrate because they are thinking about their situation. For many, the end of the school day is the beginning of the hell that awaits them at home."

Children born out of wedlock struggle to get a basic public school education. Even if public school is “free,” parents need to buy school supplies, which are more and more expensive. Their annual cost, which includes at least 20 notebooks and pens, six books and two uniforms as well as a financial contribution to the school, amounts to about 50,000 Frw ($80). Parents are also asked to contribute to the local education fund.

The fate of these Ibinyendaro (“bastards”) goes largely unnoticed. NGOs and charities helping needy children are getting in touch with local authorities who give them the names of local children in distress. But that doesn’t include children born out of wedlock, who are blacklisted by the local authorities. "Organizations tend to ignore children who have parental legitimacy issues such as bastards, those born from a second marriage, or those born while one of their parents was in jail," explains an agent from Haguruka, an organization providing legal assistance to women and children.

These children, who have never met one of their parents, are told to call their parent’s current partner "Uncle" or "Aunty." They rarely ask about their real parent. "I force myself not to think about it, because my mother even hid my father's identity from her new partner," says one 15-year-old girl from Kigali.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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