An incident in which street children suspected of petty theft were burnt to death last weekend has prompted the Rwandan government to renew warnings to the public against acts of violence and mob justice.
The country stands out in the region for its low to almost zero cases of mob justice. However, the incident, in which a group of street children were burnt to death in a drainage tunnel by security guards and night watchmen last Friday morning has shocked many.
The murders occurred next to CHIC Complex, a shopping mall located in the central business district. Two victims died on the spot while a third victim who sustained critical burns later died in hospital.
The security guards and night watchmen doused the drainage tunnel where the teenagers were hiding with petrol before setting it ablaze.
The public was shocked by photos and videos of the gruesome scene, which circulated on social media. Many condemned the act saying it was cruel.
Suspects on the run
A police statement accused security guards and community night watchmen commonly known as “Abanyerondo” as the prime suspects.
“On Friday morning at about 4am at Muhima Sector, Nyarugenge District, a tunnel in which three street children were taking shelter was set on fire. Two of the teenagers were killed by the fire while the third is being treated for serious burns at Kigali University Teaching Hospital.
“Preliminary investigations point to three night watchmen, who are suspected of starting the fire. The suspects are currently on the run,” said a statement from the police.
The incident came amid growing concern over use of violence by security agents especially the community night watchmen and members of the District Administration Security Service Organ commonly known as DASSO.
RNP Spokesperson, ACP Theos Badege said the watchmen were on the run.
“We have started operations to locate and apprehend the individuals responsible for this hideous act. We appeal to anyone with information to help arrest the suspects,” ACP Badege said.
It is not clear what provoked the guards to burn the street children, but witnesses told Rwanda Today that the street children who often seek shelter in the drainage tunnels were suspected of stealing in the CBD.
Petty crime on the rise
Rwandans took to social media to condemn the “inhumane” act and called on the government to consider the plight of street children and young people engaged in thuggery and petty theft.
With the number of house break-ins and cases of petty crime on the rise, the incident reflects the growing impatience among city residents, who get tempted to take the law into their own hands. Cases of mob justice and lynching of suspected thugs have become more common in parts of Kigali.
However, the government has warned that such acts of violence will not be tolerated. Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye said the law will deal with whoever engages in acts of violence that target any citizen.
“We are aware of the incident and we have information that the criminal act was committed by guards around CHIC Complex and they are still on the run,” said Minister Busingye.
Many blamed the incident on family breakdown and lack of social protection, which leads these children to the streets where they engage in petty crime and drug abuse.
“These children leave their homes because of poverty or because of family issues and end up on the streets. Because of lack of options, they start stealing and sleeping in the gutters,” said Henriette Mugiraneza, a resident of Muhima, who witnessed the incident.
Minister Busingye said city authorities often take children into transit centres where they are rehabilitated and reintegrated back into society.
“It is our duty and responsibility to protect all children. There are different government programmes in the ministries of local government and family promotion that provide social protection to all citizens, whether young or old.
“We will not tolerate a situation where people burn others alive,” said Minister Busingye.
He noted that a recent survey showed that at least 80 per cent of street children have both parents, but were on the street because of problems at home or negligence by parents.
Minister Busingye warned that people taking the law into their hands would face the full force of the law.
“Nobody should take advantage of situations to commit crime. There are laws and institutions to handle all cases,” he said.