Burundi: "My husband cut off my arms for having a girl"

IRIN Africa
Francine Nijimbere's husband cut off both her arms with a machete for failing to give birth to a boy.
Francine Nijimbere relies entirely on her mother for basic things like bathing and eating. Her husband cut off her arms up to the elbows in 2004, for failing to give birth to a boy.
She was pregnant at the time and lost the baby due to her injuries, which included cuts on her stomach. The man - a soldier - was arrested and later sentenced to life in prison but was recently released following a presidential pardon.

After her arms were cut off, Nijimbere left for Burundi's southern province of Makamba with her daughter, now four, where she lived with her mother. She is now living in fear following her husband's release and has sought refuge with ADDF, an association based in Bujumbura, dealing with the protection of women's rights. She spoke to IRIN on 22 February:

"In December [2007], the president announced a pardon for all inmates suffering from incurable diseases. I hear my husband was released on a false name; how can a criminal like him be pardoned? The head of state pardoned inmates suffering from incurable diseases but my husband was not ill.

"I was married to his elder brother, who was a soldier. He died in 2000 five months after our wedding. However, I remained in the house as I waited for the end of the mourning period in order to return to my parents' home. My mother-in-law insisted I should not go to my parents since dowry had been paid. She convinced my parents that I should marry her other son; I was reluctant but my parents and in-laws reached an agreement.

"Right from the start, I never accepted him. One night, he forced the door to my house and raped me. I remained there; where was I supposed to turn?

"During our life together, he was just there; he never helped me, he did not buy me any clothes, nothing. Sometimes, I spent the nights out in the cold, other times he was good enough to let me in. When he realised I was not getting pregnant soon enough, he threatened to marry another wife and even built a house for her. He did not bring her home because I got pregnant then.

"When I delivered, he simply inquired about the sex of the baby. When he heard I had given birth to a girl, he did not even bother to visit me at the hospital, and he did not pay the bill when I was discharged. After three months, he came home from work and asked me: 'Do you consider yourself a mother after giving birth to girls?' He repeatedly told me I was worthless.

“I become pregnant again, four months later. This time he told me that if I gave birth to another girl, I would have to find somewhere to take her. Later when he came home on leave, he was all sweet, telling me he was sorry if he had wronged me and that from then on things would be different, that he was a new man. And I believed him. I actually hoped he would change.

"Then one evening, I saw him sharpening a machete. I did not know he was preparing to kill me. After the evening meal, I went to sleep, leaving him with his mother and sister. I was awakened by the machete blow on my arm.

"I cried and cried, I begged for pardon but he cut my second arm. Nobody came to my rescue. Neighbours were afraid of him because he was armed. With cuts everywhere, I had a miscarriage. My husband left me there bleeding, and fled. He was later caught and imprisoned. I was taken to hospital out of pity, no one expected me to survive.

"I stayed in a coma for six days in hospital. When I was well enough, I went to live with my old mother. These days I depend on her for everything. If she is ill, I cannot get anybody to feed me. I cannot wash, I cannot clothe myself.

"If neighbours take pity on me, they come and assist me. I am more helpless than a newborn baby.

"Two weeks ago, my sister-in-law came to inform me that he has been released from prison. I know it meant death for me, so I fled to Bujumbura. I heard that while in prison, he had vowed he would 'finish the work' if he ever came out. I hear he said cutting my arms was not what he wanted in the first place.

"The only thing I want now is justice and assistance."

25 February 2008