Two innocent children living with autism are at the center of a bitter row between their Belgian father and Rwandan mother. The fight between the estranged couple is so serious that the woman once spent about two weeks in police detention for battering the husband.
When the couple started dating and had their first child, none ever thought that eight years later, a court would have ordered for their separation, and ordered the husband to make monthly payments.
Now, the husband accuses the ex-wife of refusing to let the autistic children to travel to Europe for specialized care and treatment, an accusation the woman admits.
As if that is not enough, the husband claims that he is paying tuition fees at Green Hills Academy for his children to be given special needs care, but that is not what is happening.
The couple spoke to The Chronicles separately, but we were first contacted by the husband, Patrick Carpentier, a Belgian, who has been living in Rwanda for over 20 years.
It followed a story “Health Minister Promises Budget Allocation to deal with Autism,” published April 8. In the story, a mother Uwamahoro Dalda made a comment, which we reported, and has provoked the latest fight.
She said in the interview: “It is easy that someone can suffer from Malaria, and you are sure there is a pill for malaria. Imagine dealing with a condition you have never heard of in your entire life. It is a huge challenge because you don’t know where to go and who to ask.”
Uwamahoro told us that the boys are attending Green Hills Academy, where she pays up to Rwf3m ($3,400) per semester for them to attend the Special Needs Class.
Ex-husband Carpentier says the boys, aged 7 and 5 years, are not getting the necessary care in Rwanda, and has been pleading with his ex-wife to accept to travel to Belgium.
The children would be checked by good doctors to provide a diagnosis and recommend how they should better be taken care of, according to Carpentier.
100 Euros in Brussels
He tells The Chronicles that he sought two appointments with the Cliniques universitaires Saint-Luc in Brussels, which was ready to receive the children for further treatment. The Chronicles was provided with the communication between Carpentier and the hospital.
“In August 2017, I sent an email to Dalda telling her that my insurance had been renewed and we have to take the children to Belgium for specialized treatment. She replied to me that we still have many legal issues to settle in the court and we cannot go to Belgium at this time, and that the children are still in school,” narrates Carpentier.
“I had the first hospital rendez-vous on May 1, 2016. The hours are clearly written, hospital is indicated, the specialist who is supposed to meet the children is also there. I have been asking for these rendez-vous since 2017, 2018 and even now in 2019 but she has refused. She thinks that maybe I am going to kill the children in Belgium or to keep them there. All those are just excuses.”
When we put the allegation to Uwamahoro, she admitted that the ex-husband indeed wants to take her and the children to Belgium. However, she expressed her reservation about going to Belgium, saying that she fears Carpentier may reach there and take the children from her by force.
“A man who is mistreating me here in my own country where I have families and friends, imagine what he will do when we are in Belgium – in his country where I don’t have any relative,” Uwamahoro said to us.
Uwamahoro also says that during their devorce court proceedings, which are still ongoing over various other issues, Carpentier had indicated that he would provide her with 100 Euros weekly for upkeep once in Belgium.
“Even in Kigali, that 100 Euros (Rwf 100,000) cannot feed us, how does he expect it to be enough in Europe,” she responded.
If for example Uwamahoro stayed in Belgium for four weeks, Carpentier would have committed to give her 400 Euros (Rwf 400,000). This money is for her own personal savings excluding of all expenses which the ex-husband says will be covered.
However, when the issue of taking children to Belgium was put to a judge, the court dismissed the 100€ offer as insufficient, according to Uwamahoro.
Uwamahoro tell us that she is worried the children will have their conditions worsening if they move to a new country, which comes with new challenges.
“Here they have been able to get friends and are living normal lives. Going to Belgium will be a completely new beginning in every aspect for them,” she said.
But her ex-husband says all he wants for his children is to get the best possible professional advice in Belgium on what they can or should not do for the children. He tells us the children will come back to Rwanda, if the mother wishes.
As par the court settlement for divorce, Carpentier was ordered to pay tuition for the children at Green Hills Academy, as well as a monthly support of Rwf 400,000 cash.
Children must be with father on weekends
The second issue raised by Carpentier is that his ex-wife has been blocking him from seeing the children.
Court ordered the two to share the upbringing of the children, requiring the mother to give the children to their father every Saturday 11am to Sunday 16hours (4pm).
When Uwamahoro is speaking about this issue, she nearly breaks down. She told us that she has no problem with the court decision, but that Carpentier has repeatedly gone against the rules.
She accuses him of sometimes delaying to bring back the children, and she has to beg for them. As Uwamahoro spoke to The Chronicles, she explained that sometimes she has to call police to report that the children have not been brought him.
On that evening, she called the Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB), which told her to inform the court-appointed bailiff about the delay.
The Chronicles was at Uwamahoro’s home up to 8pm on Sunday for this interview. The children had not been brought back to their desperate mother, yet she was supposed to have them back at 4pm. We left when they had not yet been brought home.
We have since established that the father delivered the children on Monday. Since it was Easter weekend, the father says he explained to the bailiff and it was agreed that the two parents will divide up when each will keep for the holidays.
The third issue of contention between the former couple is the kind of education the children are getting. It is of concern to Carpentier. He dismissed the ex-wife’s narration that the children attend a separate special care class at Green Hills Academy.
The Chronicles went undercover at the school to establish how children with autism are handled. Our reporter posed as a parent with a child having autism, and was seeking to know what the school offers, and at what costs are involved.
We confirmed that indeed, children living with autism are not separated from others, because, according to Green Hills, being in same environment with others is what actually contributes to the development of the autistic children.
However, each of the children has a personal assistant with professional training to deal with their needs.
In other words, even if the autistic child is in same class with other kids, he or she has a person with them apart from the teacher in class. This assistant attends all the classes this child goes to.
The silent war between this couple is so intense that each party speaks about their troubles with unusual interest. We spent many hours with each of them as they explained their side, angrily dismissing the other. Some of the things they say about the other are better not said in the media.
Each of the two claims they have faced gender-based violence inflicted on them by the other.
One particular case comes out striking. On May 5, 2017, there was a bitter fight. The exact details of what transpired are contained in police and court documents, showing that Uwamahoro was arrested on the same day. Apparently, Uwamahoro came home at 1am. A quarrel ensued and they fought.
She spent 13 days in detention after inflicting visible wounds on her husband.
In Court however, the prosecutor handling the marital abuse file withdrew it from court and the case collapsed.
Carpentier claims the prosecutor has never informed him as to why the case never proceeded. However, Uwamahoro for her part, says she was actually the victim, and that the wounds inflicted on the man were in self-defense “because he wanted to strangle me to death.”
The couple legally married in 2014 with a lavish ceremony, but two years later, they were each seeking divorce.
Versions from both of them show they met more than eight years ago. Uwamahoro Dalda worked as Accounts Secretary in a company of owned Carpentier, who is now 65 years.
The Belgian also claims his ex-wife chased him out of the marital house, yet he is the one paying the rent for the apartment. Uwamahoro disputes this.
What experts say about the children going to Belgium
In Rwanda, estimates by the Rwanda Parents Initiative on Autism suggest that there could be as many as 40,000 people with the condition in the country.
This initiative alone, has more than 100 families as members.
Autism leaves people with it, especially children, requiring extensive care. Available research shows that people with it experience low functionality, limited verbal skills, difficulty understanding daily instructions, and need a lot of assistance in doing their daily routine. There is no cure.
However, some research also suggests some people with the condition exert rare intelligence. There are some known cases such Albert Einstein who experienced language delays and educational slowness. The list also includes world known physician Isaac Newton and the music historian Mozart.
Dr. Jean Paul Rukabya Rwema, a senior member of the Rwanda Pediatric Association told The Chronicles that changing the environment of the autistic children would affect them immensely.
“It is very difficult for the children to again adapt to a new environment,” he said, adding; “Adaptation is a very big challenge”.
EDITOR: The Chronicles is deliberately not mentioning the names of the children because they are minors. We have also decided not to publish the photos of the two parents to keep them away from what we believe will be unnecessary public ridicule. The couple needs their issues settled for the sake of the children.