“We are the memory representation of our parents”: Intergenerational legacies of genocide among descendants of rape survivors in Rwanda

  • Marie Grâce Kagoyire Duhumurizanye Iwacu Rwanda
  • Annemiek Richters Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, the Netherlands. Prof. Emeritus.; Leiden University Medical Center, the Netherlands
Keywords: Genocide, rape, trauma transmission, intergenerational, Rwanda


Introduction: The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda subjected thousands of women to rape as part of a range of other genocidal atrocities. This article explores what it means in everyday life to be a descendant of such mothers. Methods: A qualitative study was conducted in eastern Rwanda. The twelve respondents, all descendants of genocide-rape survivor mothers, participated in focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews. Topics focused on different aspects of the intergenerational transmission of trauma and the mitigation of this transmission by the psychosocial support from which their mothers benefited. The phenomenological method as developed by Giorgi (2012) was used to analyze the transcripts. Findings: All respondents, regardless of their birth circumstances, are marked by growing up with a severely traumatized mother. Children conceived during rape are specifically marked by the absence of a perpetrator father unknown to them, the others by the lack of many (extended) family members. They all benefited from the psychosocial support provided to their mothers. Discussion: Genocidal rape causes specific kinds of suffering and specific identity problems for the children born as a consequence of genocide-rape. However, even if the children were not conceived during the rape, their level of suffering is similar. Conclusion: The effects of the intergenerational transmission of trauma related to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda should be recognized among all youth deeply affected by it. Appropriate policies and programs should be designed and implemented to moderate the effects and strengthen resilience to ensure a peaceful future on an individual, interpersonal, and inter-relational community levels.


Amnesty International (2004). Rwanda: “Marked for Death”, Rape Survivors Living with HIV/AIDS in Rwanda. AI Index: AFR 47/007/2004

Banyanga, J. D., Björkqvist, K., & Österman, K. (2017). The trauma of women who were raped and children who were born as a result of rape during the Rwandan genocide: Cases from the Rwandan diaspora. Pyrex Journal of African Studies and Development, 3(4), 31-39. https://doi.org/10.1080/23311908.2017.1333244

Bijleveld, C., Morssinkhof, A., & Smeulers, A. (2009). Counting the countless rape victimization during the Rwandan genocide. International Criminal Justice Review, 19(2), 208–224. doi: 10.1177/1057567709335391

Braga, L. L., Mello, M. F., & Fiks, J. P. (2012). Transgenerational transmission of trauma and resilience: A qualitative study with Brazilian offspring of Holocaust survivors. BMC Psychiatry, 12(1), 134. doi: 0.1186/1471-244X-12-134

Carpenter, R. C. (2000). Surfacing children: Limitations of genocidal rape discourse. Human Rights Quarterly, 22(2), 428-477. doi: 10.1353/hrq.2000.0020

Carpenter R.C. (2010). Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond. New York: Columbia University Press. DOI: 10.7312/carp15130

Carpenter, R. C. (ed.) (2007). Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones. San Francisco, CA: Kumarian Press. https://doi.org/10.1080/17441691003641807

Denov, M., Woolner, L., Bahati, J.P. Nsuki, P., & Shyaka, O.B. (2017). The intergenerational legacy of genocidal rape: The realities and perspectives of children born of the Rwandan genocide. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1-22. doi: 10.1177/0886260517708407

Doná, G. (2012). Being young and of mixed ethnicity in Rwanda. Forced Migration Review, 40(7), 16-17.

Eramian, L. & Denov, M. (2018). Is it always good to talk? The paradoxes of truth-telling by Rwandan youth born of rape committed during the genocide. Journal of Genocide Research, 20(3), 372-391. doi: 10.1521/psyc.

Giorgi, A. (2012). The descriptive phenomenological psychological method. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 43(1), 3-12. doi: 10.1163/156916212X632934

Gobodo-Madikizela, P. (ed.) (2016). Breaking Intergenerational Cycles Of Repetition: A Global Dialogue on Historical Trauma and Memory. Opladen: Barbara Budrich Publishers.

Hirsch, M. (2012). The Generation of Postmemory: Writing And Visual Culture After The Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hogwood, J., Auerbach, C. Munderere, S., & Kambibi, E. (2014). Rebuilding the social fabric: Community counselling groups for Rwandan women with children born as a result of genocide rape. Intervention, 12(3), 393-404.

Hogwood. J. et al. (2017). “I learned who I am”: Young people born from genocide rape in Rwanda and their experiences of disclosure. Journal of Adolescent Research, 33(5), 549-570. doi: 10.1177/0743558417713302

Ingabire, M.C., Kagoyire, M.G., Karangwa, D, Ingabire, N., Habarugira, N,, Jansen, A., & Richters, A. (2017). Trauma informed restorative justice through community based sociotherapy in Rwanda. Intervention, 15(3), 241–253. doi: 10.1097/WTF.0000000000000163

Kagoyire, G., Rutayisire, T., & Richters, A. (eds.) (2013). Narapfuye ndazuka: Ubuzima bw’abagore barokotse jenoside yakorewe Abatutsi mu Rwanda mu 1994. Bugesera Sociotherapy Program.

Kantengwa O. (2014). How motherhood triumphs over trauma among mothers with children from genocidal rape in Rwanda. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 2(1), 417-434. doi: 10.5964/jspp.v2i1.334

Kellermann, N.P.F. (2001). Transmission of Holocaust trauma: An Integrative view. Psychiatry, 64(3), 256-267. doi: 10.1521/psyc.

Melander, M., Dahlblom, K., Jegannathan, B., & Kullgren, G. (2016). Exploring communication of traumatic experiences from Khmer Rouge genocide survivors to their offspring: In-depth interviews with both generations. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 62(4), 327-333. doi: 10.1177/0020764016631364

MINALOC (Ministry of Local Administration, Community Development and Social Affairs (2004). Dénombrement des Victimes du Génocide. Final report, Kigali, Rwanda. Retrieved from: http://cnlg.gov.rw/fileadmin/templates/Publications/denombrement_des_victimes_du_genocide_perpetre_contre_les_tutsi_avril_2004.pdf

Mukangendo, M. C. (2007). Caring for Children Born of Rape in Rwanda. In R. C. Carpenter (ed.) Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones (pp. 40−52). San Francisco, CA: Kumarian Press.

Nikuze, D. (2013). Parenting style and its psychological impact on rape born children: Case of raped survivors of the 1994 genocide perpetrated against Tutsi in Rwanda. International Journal of Development and Sustainability, 2(2), 1084-1098.

Nowrojee, B. (1996). Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence During the Rwanda Genocide and its Aftermath. Human Rights Watch Africa.

Richters, A., & Kagoyire, G. (eds.) (2014). Of death and rebirth: Life histories of Rwandan female genocide survivors. Torture, 24: Supplementum 1.

Richters, A. Rutayisire, T., & Dekker, C. (2001). Care as a turning point in sociotherapy: Remaking the moral world in post-genocide Rwanda. Medische Antropologie, 22(1), 93-108.

Rutayisire, T., & Richters, A. (2014). Everyday suffering outside prison walls: A legacy of community justice in post-genocide Rwanda”, Social Science & Medicine, 120: 413-420. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.06.009

Sarabwe, E., Richters, A., & Vysma, M. (2018). Marital conflict in the aftermath of genocide in Rwanda: An explorative study within the context of community based sociotherapy, Intervention, 16(1), 14-21. doi: 10.1097/WTF.0000000000000147

Torgovnik, J. (2009). Intended consequences: Rwandan children born of rape. New York: Aperture Foundation.

Umulisa, C. (2009). In-between mothers: Intersectional analysis of life situation of mothers of children born as a result of rape during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. MA thesis (unpublished) Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Wax, E. (2004). Rwandans are struggling to love children of hate. Washington Post, March 28. Retrieved from: http://01fe00c.netsolhost.com/images/Rwanda-28-Mar-04-Rwandans_Are_Struggling_To_Love_Children_of_Hate.pdf

Zraly, M., Rubin, S.E., & Mukamana, D. (2013). Motherhood and resilience among Rwandan genocide‐rape survivors. Ethos, 41(4), 411-439. doi: 10.1111/etho.12031

How to Cite
Kagoyire, M., & Richters, A. (2018). “We are the memory representation of our parents”: Intergenerational legacies of genocide among descendants of rape survivors in Rwanda. Torture Journal, 28(3), 30-45. https://doi.org/10.7146/torture.v28i3.111183