Spring holidays from Rwandan schools leave female students especially vulnerable. Obstacles to safe transportation add to this vulnerability.
It’s Friday afternoon at Groupe Scolaire St. André, a secondary school in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. Students are headed home for the three-week spring holiday.
Clad in white shirts, khaki skirts and trousers with yellow sweaters, the nearly 700 students, who range in age from 11 to 20, gather excitedly. They talk and wave their newly received report cards.
I know that I need to be responsible during holidays because sugar daddies want to abuse me. I will not let them do it. I want to have a bright future."Diane Umurerwa, 17
The students are jovial and looking forward to the start of their holidays. Most say they will spend time with their families, eat tasty food and have fun with friends.
But the reality is that school vacation also brings many social problems, especially for young girls.
The first challenge on this Friday afternoon will come for hundreds of students in the capital who live outside the city. They must find transportation home with their luggage from boarding while school is in session.
Rwanda is made up of five provinces. Most provinces are at least three hours from Kigali, where most students come to school. Transportation to the most remote provinces can cost up to 6,000 francs ($10), a substantial sum considering nearly 80 percent of the population lives on less than 750 francs ($1.25) a day in Rwanda, according to UNICEF.
Older men known as “sugar daddies” wait in the wings on these busy travel days. They offer rides, cell phone use, food and other commodities to young girls in exchange for sex.
Educators, parents and students say that these sugar daddies prey on female students, especially when they are en route home for school holidays. Hikes in transportation fees during holidays and by unscrupulous drivers also leave students more vulnerable to accepting rides from sugar daddies. Authorities say that interaction with sugar daddies can lead to cross-generational sex and rape, which can result in unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The government, nongovernmental organizations, schools and parents have been working together to protect female students.
One in 10 girls here has her first sexual experience with a man who is at least 10 years her senior, reported the Rwanda Behavior Surveillance Survey in 2006. HIV prevalence in Rwanda is higher among older men than younger men, jumping from less than 1 percent among men ages 15 to 19 to 8 percent among men ages 40 to 44, according to the 2010 Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey.
Women with at least some secondary education have the highest HIV prevalence rate among women, according to the survey. And the HIV prevalence for young girls ages 15 to 24 in urban areas is nearly four times higher than that of young men, a 2010 USAID report found.
Nadia Kayitesi, now 25, says she got pregnant when she was 15 by a man who was twice her age. Now a resident of Kigali’s Nyamirambo district, Kayitesi admits her child’s father was a sugar daddy.
“I was a young girl without money,” she says. “[He] used to give me everything I could need, like good clothes, lotion, makeup and perfume. He used to bring me to good restaurants where I could eat good food.”
But when she got pregnant at 15, Kayitesi says her sugar daddy soon disappeared. A single mother, she was forced to drop out of school for two years.
“Today I regret my behaviors when I was a teenager,” she says.
Brigitte Kabera, the school matron responsible for female students at Groupe Scolaire St. André, says that Kayitesi’s situation is sadly common. Kabera says a lack of money is often the beginning of girls’ trouble with sugar daddies during the holidays.
“Some girls need things they are not able to find in their families, like telephones, nice clothes, necklaces and many other things,” she says. “These behaviors can introduce them to sexuality and destroy their lives. That is why before they go home they must attend a conference about how to live during holidays.”
The school takes precautions and works to inform its students about the dangers of sugar daddies around vacation time. Kabera says one of her primary duties is to ensure that girls reach their homes safely at the start of school vacations.
“Usually parents call me to confirm if their children reach home safely,” she says.
Girls at the school confirmed that they were aware of the sugar daddy problem, thanks to efforts by local schools and the Ministry of Youth here.
“I know that I need to be responsible during holidays because sugar daddies want to abuse me,” says Diane Umurerwa, 17. “I will not let them do it. I want to have a bright future.”
As schools break for holidays, students carrying luggage can be seen on sidewalks and crowding into Kigali’s bus depot. Some may not find rides, though. Others may not be able to afford the fare, as rate hikes on busy transport days are common here.
Ibrahim Hatungimana, 32, is a bus driver with Gasabo Travel and Tours Agency. He says it’s true that some drivers increase the transport fare on days when students leave boarding school at the end of the term in order to earn more money.
But Hatungimana says that those drivers are often not with registered companies. Unregistered buses are referred to as “twegerane.”
That increase, Hatungimana says, can have a negative impact on all students trying to get home, particularly young girls who may have to spend the night on the street if they can’t afford the transportation costs home. But he says that authorities such as Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency and Transport Cooperative, formerly Rwandan Agency of Public Transit, intervene when this occurs.
“Increasing bus fares by drivers inconveniences passengers in general,” he says. “But when caught, those drivers are sent to ATRACO, which sends them to RURA, which is the institution that has the mandate of punishing them.”
Kabula Ibrahim, head of Huye Transport Cooperative, the branch of the cooperative that operates in Kigali, says that drivers who illegally hike fares face suspensions or fines. He says this punitive action is causing transgressions to decline.
Clementine Uwineza, a form six student at Groupe Scolaire St. André, says she has faced problems trying to get home to Kabuga, a town near Kigali, because of fare hikes at the start of school vacations.
“I kept the money for the transport fare only to find out that it has been increased. It is difficult for me, and it causes many problems,” she says. “Sometimes I do not have any money left and decide to go and look for accommodation at my friend’s, which might inconvenience her parents.”
Uwineza also admits that men have offered her rides in nice cars and other items when she couldn’t find a ride. But she says she knows getting involved with a sugar daddy could have negative consequences, like AIDS or unwanted pregnancy.
Ishimwe Teta Marie Reine, 11, is a form one student. She says that students who come from rural areas to study in the city face many challenges as they have to travel long distances with their luggage. One challenge is the transportation fare, which may lead to girls accepting rides from sugar daddies.
Rwigasira Abdou, 19, a form six student, agrees.
“Increasing transport fares is a challenge, particularly for girls who are tempted by people who use different type of things,” he says. “When a girl does not have enough money, they might decide to walk and reach home late in the night. That might cause many problems because they might be raped, among other dangers they may face.”
Kabera says that in 2011, a 17-year-old student accepted a ride from a 46-year-old driver who locked her in his house for three days and raped her. He eventually released her, but Kabera says that the young woman never returned to school despite the school’s efforts.
Parents are also on alert. Athanasie Mukakabanda is a mother of eight children, four of whom are girls.
“When you have a young girl, you have to be careful because there are many things that might attract them,” she says.
She says the term “sugar daddy” makes her panic, especially when school lets out for spring vacation.
“That is the reason why I come to this school, so that I might take my children and make sure they get home safe and sound,” she says.
The issue of sugar daddies preying on young girls is receiving attention from local schools, nongovernmental organizations and even the Rwandan government.
The ANTI-SIDA Club at Groupe Scolaire St. André aims to help students raise awareness about the risk of contracting HIV from sugar daddies.
“The issue about sugar daddies is one of the topics of the club,” Kabera says.
The Ministry of Youth has also been active in spreading the word about sugar daddies. It launched in 2009 a campaign called “Sinigurisha,” which means, “I am not for sale.” The campaign discourages cross-generational sex, which it identifies as a driver of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
The campaign’s second phase, initiated in 2010, specifically targeted sugar daddies and sugar mommies, according to Population Services International, a global health organization that provided technical support for the campaign. The phase identified homes, schools, cars, hotels and lodges as permissive environments for sugar daddies and sugar mommies.
Advocates says that parents and teachers are becoming more aware, which may also help to abate the problem.
“My child studies in senior three,” says Carine Mukangamije, a mother waiting outside Groupe Scolaire St. André to pick up her daughter on Friday before the holiday break. “She is clever, and I’m proud of her.”
She says that she will do everything she can to protect her daughter from sugar daddies.
“I know that around us there are those old men who want to destroy the life of our children, but I will be there for my baby,” she says. “I will give her whatever she needs. I will talk with her about different important issue of life, about women’s life, and I will be there to answer every question she will ask. I will always be there for her.”
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