The practice of marrying multiple spouses has become a routine for some elder men in Kaniga sector. However, this practice has so far resulted into many problems like giving birth to a big number of children, lack of basic rights for children and their mothers, low standard of living; a fact which pushes many family head to flee away from their household, mostly to neighboring Uganda.
Fabian Baliyo is married to nine spouses with 54 children, 24 girls and 30 boys. Among these children, only 12 managed to attend primary school, but they dropped out before attending national exam. The 74-year old does not know the names of all his children, their age or where they are in studies. Some of his children have to introduce themselves to him, while begging his support. Usually, his first question is: “Who is your mother?”.
Judith Namugisha, is the sixth wife to Baliyo. She gave birth to nine of his children. Her husband abandoned her during her last pregnancy seven years ago. “It was not easy to feed and provide all basic needs to my children. I could not manage to pay their school fees, buy clothes, provide health care and feed them,“ said the 56-year-old woman. She adds that her children are now facing the consequences of their life in poverty: They cannot get a good job, instead they are paid on a daily base for labour at the village and tea plantation.
The eldest son of Baliyo family, Joseph Habimana, has witnessed the low lifestyle of both his family and his siblings. The 41-year-old man narrates how his father was always enjoying Kanyanga, a local alcoholic drink, and how he never minded issues related to the education, health or welfare of his families since he believed his wives are capable of doing everything.
“My father did not care, he even used to stay away from our home a whole week without knowing what was troubling the family. When I was chased from school as a young boy, I passed by his place, where he was drinking. He told me that my mother has a big plot of land to get school fees from,” he remembered in front of the audience. He made clear that in his perception, his mother struggled to get the children through life while his father impregnated other women.
Jean Marie Vianney Bangirana, Executive Secretary of Kaniga Sector, says marrying multiple spouses is a common issue in Rukiga region (northern Rwanda, neighboring to Uganda) and it is from their old traditional beliefs.
“However, it is unconstitutional. The government of Rwanda has started awareness program to challenge this belief for many households, suffering a great deal of taking care of their children accordingly due to polygamy” says JMV Bangirana.
Men leave their homes going to look for facilities in Uganda or Kigali, but they never come back, we are witnessing a great number of abandoned women with many difficulties of looking after children, he complemented.
Although polygamy is illegal in Rwanda, the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS 2014-2015) shows that 7% of women live in polygamous unions: 6% of them have only one co-wife, while 1% has more than one co-wife. The same survey reveals that the fertility rate is 4.2 births per woman.
Jean Baptiste Karegeya