Rwandan children are still faced with various hardships in spite of a new study that rated Rwanda among the most child-friendly countries in Africa.
The study says the continent has become a better place for children, compared with five years ago, and that improving children’s wellbeing does not necessarily depend on the wealth of a country.
Despite its relatively low GDP per capita, the Child Friendliness Index ranked Rwanda the sixth among Africa’s 52 countries, having moved up five places from 11th position in 2008.
The flagship report, which was released on November 18 by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), reflects on “Child Wellbeing 2013” with its theme “Towards Greater Accountability to Africa’s Children.”
Despite the progress made by the government and other stakeholders to improve children’s living standards, serious challenges abound.
According to a mini survey done by Rwanda Today in Kigali, there are still many children who beg on the streets because they have been abandoned.
Many Rwandan children, particularly those born during the 1994 mayhem, are also struggling to deal with the effects of war and genocide such as rape and being orphaned.
In addition, many children face poverty in families while domestic violence has denied others a chance to be raised in a proper home. There are parents who have neglected their children who, as a result, end up in petty crime and drug and substance abuse.
In the crime-prone Biryogo, Nyamirambo, for instance, we found groups of children engaging in drug abuse, fights, begging and others idling in cinema houses (ibibanda).
They said that their families had neglected them due to poverty, but the government was not making efforts to take them off the streets.
“Most of us have no parents and no money to go to school; all we can manage is to be here on the street, watch cars and, if we happen to get Rwf500 a day, then we take black tea and chapati and sleep on the verandah,” said Joakim, a street child who dropped out of primary school.
Ran away from centre
He narrated how he ran away from a rehabilitation centre in Kigali: “I was taken to a centre for street kids in Gikondo, but I spent only two weeks there.
“I escaped because they were beating us each and every minute, and the living conditions were worse than on the streets. All sorts of skin diseases are found there.”
Joakim’s colleague added: “We made the streets our home not because we want to. One day, God will show us a way for us.”
Even in other city suburbs such as Nyabugogo, the number of street children is increasing every day. They are said to mug people at night using weapons such as machetes and knives, as well as pick pockets, among other vices.
And yet the report did not address the issue of street children, the challenge that is facing many growing towns and cities not only in Rwanda but across Africa.
There were also reports of child abuse. A Primary Four pupil at Intwari Primary School in Nyamirambo, recalled: “Last term a pupil at our school was beaten by the teacher and her face was injured.
“She was taken to hospital and the teacher was expelled by the headmaster.”
He said his four-year-old sister was raped at their home recently.
Mana Lebo, a mother of six who lives in Biryogo, said: “The families of most of the kids you see here live in Gitega, Nyakabanda and Rwampara, among other nearby places, and whenever the government takes them to rehabilitation centres their families normally go there and bring them back home.”
Promote, protect children’s rights
She added that the government was “reluctant to remove them from the streets and most of the times their parents do not know where they live.”
However, Come Sinayitutse, a children’s rights protection and promotion officer at the National Commission for Children (NCC), commended the government for its efforts to ensure every child’s wellbeing.
“Each category of children’s vulnerability is considered and a quick response is provided in order to promote and protect children’s rights,” said Mr Sinayitutse.
“The government has developed policies, laws and programmes and also established mechanisms and strategies in order to promote the welfare of children.”
Mr Sinayitutse said the NCC provides support to orphanages and centres for children with disabilities, street children and children whose mothers are in prison, among others.
It also works with national and international partners in order to enhance children’s rights, said Mr Sinayitutse.