The efficiency of Rwanda’s child protection programmes is in the spotlight following an increase in the number of children pushed to the streets by poverty and instability in households, Rwanda Today has learnt.
The increase has sparked public security and social risk concerns as the incoming children get exposed to drug abuse and involvement in crime.
The capital Kigali particularly has recently seen a large influx of street children coming from urban and rural parts of the country to join the already crowded street life, creating an uphill task for the concerned institutions.
Eleven-year-old Eric Dominiko from Save, Southern Province, spent four days on the streets of Huye before moving to Kigali with two of his colleagues last week.
The three, who cite their family’s poor living conditions and mistreatment as among causes that pushed them to end up on the street, are not the only newcomers in the Kigali street life.
In another hideout located in Gatsata suburb are five other children, who hail from Gicumbi, Bugesera, Rwamagana, Muhanga and Musanze, each having so far spent the past three days to one week on the streets.
Reasons for being on the street vary.
“We ate once in a day and my father has other wives, so I came here to seek money,” said a 12-year-old boy only identified as Kadogo, who, despite his tender age, has started to abuse drugs — as is the norm for many of his colleagues.
Clad in a dirty black dress and an oversized sweater, the barefoot and scared-looking Divine Uwase, 11, from Muhanga and the 14-year-old Anna Mutoni from Nyagatare were found hanging around Muhima at night, begging.
They both dropped out of primary school last year and joined a group of colleagues who advised them to go to Kigali to look for domestic employment.
“When I came here, we found out that the family I was going to work for had gotten another domestic worker, and my father refused to pay for me the ticket to head back home,” said Mutoni.
There are no exact numbers of the children who are living on the streets as the most recent survey conducted into the matter dates back to 2012.
The survey had ranked Nyarugenge District in Kigali tops as far as having many street children in concerned, followed by 10 other districts, largely those hosting secondary towns across the country.
However, going by the apparent rise in number of the newcomer streets children, coupled with their crowded presence in their notorious spots as well as their emergence in previously street children-free areas, there is an impression that their numbers have been growing sharply in the past months.
When Rwanda Today visited areas most frequented by street families in Kigali, large groups of children — both male and female — were seen coming out of their hideouts, popularly known as ingangi, at about midnight.
In Nyabugogo alone, about eight groups comprising seven to 15 children each were seen at the weekend coming from different directions — namely Kimisagara, Giti cy’Inyoni, Gatsata, Muhima and Gisozi.
Many other children, in small and large groups, were also seen in places across the capital suburbs notorious for harbouring street children, informally called amaseta.
They all claim to be living under the highways, bushes and other venues close to garages and markets where they spend the day waiting for nightfall and go to town to collect leftover metals for sale or scavenge from the dustbins foodstuffs to eat, a practice known as gusyaga.
The increase has sparked public apprehension, with some residents raising concerns that if the issue is not checked in time, future societal stability would be compromised.
“Most of these children, especially the veterans in street life, are very brutal and aggressive,” said Amiel Nkundumpaye, a trader in Giticyinyoni. “At times they steal from unsuspecting passers-by as well as in homes and shops.”
Saying that many act under the influence of drugs, he added: “Their increase is something you can see by yourself because now it looks like all the street kids of this town have converged here.”
The increase is despite the government’s efforts to eradicate the street children issue. The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (Migeprof) runs a campaign calling on all to play their role in raising children, especially after its decision to gradually close all orphanages.
While Migeprof does not deny the fact that there has been an increase in street children as it recognises the presence of hundreds of children in infamous spots across town, Gender Minister Oda Gasinzigwa said the increase cannot be linked in any way to the closure of orphanages.
The ongoing programme, initiated three years ago to promote raising of children among families, has seen more than 2,177 children in 12 of 33 orphanages received by families.
“The growing presence of children on the streets is an issue on its own; be it clear that those coming to streets aren’t those involved in our policy of closing orphanages,” said Ms Gasinzigwa. “Our reports indicate that the children received in families are still there, except for few cases, which we solved.”
Ms Gasinzigwa said the ministry will focus more on holding less children-responsible parents accountable using penal provisions in child protection laws alongside strengthening measures aimed at addressing issues that are pushing children to live on the streets.
The measures, she said, include gathering street children and taking them through rehabilitation prior to sending them back to the families.
Migeprof statistics indicate that more than 870 street children are hosted in 21 transit and rehabilitation centres across the country, waiting to be sent back home.