Rwandan children still forced into work, illegal activities instead of school

Friday November 7 2014

Children scramble for a pen from a tourist in Gisenyi, Rubavu District. A report says child labour is still rife in Rwanda. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

Children scramble for a pen from a tourist in Gisenyi, Rubavu District. A report says child labour is still rife in Rwanda. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By RODRIGUE RWIRAHIRA, RT Special Correspondent

Rwanda has made minimal advances in its efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, a report recently shows.

The 2013 Child Labour report, released last month by released by the US Department of Labour, shows that while there was steady progress in curbing child soldier recruitment, elimination of other forms of domestic forced labour in agriculture and other services has been slow.

The report states that some children still work as domestic servants, street beggars, scrap metal collectors, porters, bar attendants, hairdressers and dancers in clubs despite a huge political will to eliminate child labour.

According to the findings, this affects the primary school completion rate with some children having been forced to combine work and study.

“Despite significant achievements in school enrolment, which is recorded as 79 per cent, the report shows that at least 18 per cent of children aged between five and 14 combine work and school,” reads the report.

The school completion rate has slightly reduced, moving from 58 to 57 per cent despite early guidelines provided by the City of Kigali to eliminate all forms forced child labour.

The guidelines require local authorities to raise awareness on child labour and call for a census at the cell administrative level to estimate the prevalence of child domestic workers, according to the report.

Forced labour has not only been prevalent within the city as stated by the report; at least 16 per cent of children of school-going age outside the city have been working in agriculture in the production of sugarcane, bananas and tea, it adds.

“In the agriculture sector, the activities have mainly been about planting and harvesting cabbage, coffee, mangoes, peas, pineapples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, sorghum, pyrethrum and rice,” reads the report.

Commenting on the report findings, legislators attributed the slow progress to family disputes, poor mentality and negligence of parents in the upbringing of the children, who end up taking to the streets or into forced labour in search of a better life.

Esperance Umwiza, a member of the Standing Committee in charge of Social Affairs, said the problem is at the family level rather than a policy issue.

“The law on children is very clear that a child should not engage in activities against his rights; it is about defiance among parents,” she said, adding that soon the committee will table a report on children’s safety, welfare and sanitation.

However, the Member of Parliament added, for the past years the government has stepped up the enforcement of rehabilitation programmes.

“We started programmes of finding families for orphaned children,” she said. “Rehabilitation centres are working to address issues of misconduct amongst children.”

In 2009, Rwanda started the process of closing all 34 children’s institutions and find new homes for the 3,153 orphans living in them.

So far, according to reports, hundreds of orphaned children have found new homes.

The latest report by the National Children’s Commission, says about three per cent of street children did not know if their parents were dead or alive. A study to assess the survival status of their parents found that, out of 1,087 street children surveyed, 71.5 per cent declared that their mothers were alive and 51.6 per cent declared their fathers alive.

The report further stated that 42.1 per cent declared their fathers dead and 25.5 per cent said their mothers were dead. As a result, sometimes orphaned children were forced to engage in illegal activities.