Why is the number of street children increasing?
Street children seen selling vegetables in the Nyabugogo area. (photo Jean d’Amour Mugabo)
“I have been living on the street for five months. I have no parents and was living with my married sister in Rusizi, but they gave me heavy work to do and harassed me.”
Thus said a 16-year boy, found at Nyabugogo market last week, who is now living on the streets of the capital.
Though there are no recent statistics on the number of street children, the government is convinced that their number has recently increased in urban areas like Huye, Musanze and particularly Kigali.
It is also a problem that preoccupies President Kagame, who at the opening of the National Leadership Retreat last Saturday qualified the increase of street children, among others, as a ‘lapse in efficiency of public service.’
“Some of these things only need observation, not resources; […] we only need to see them and correct them, but we fail to do this,” Kagame complained.
While the exact causes of the increase remain unclear, most street children The Rwanda focus cited spoke to cited conflicts in their families, malnourishment and overexploitation by their guardians.
“I came from Karongi; I have only my mother only and we hardly had one meal per day,” said one 13-year-old boy. “My life is better here because I am able to buy food with the money I make by carrying stuff and collecting fresh food items from the garbage which I sell to people. I wish I could go to school though, but I never want to go back home.”
While the government also points to bad or poor parenting as the major reason for children to go and live on the street, some people have suggested the government’s strategy of closing orphanages and reintegrating children into families is also to blame. They suggest that many street children come from foster families due to maltreatment.
Yet the Minister for Gender and Family Promotion, Oda Gasinzigwa, strongly denied those claims during discussion in the Senate on the problem of street children a fortnight ago.
“The increase of street children has nothing to do with the reintegration of children into families, because all of those children are still living there. None of the children who lived in orphanages before is on the street today,” she insisted.
Gasinzigwa on the other hand pointed to a 2012 survey which indicated as the major factors the instability in households, bad parenting by parents or guardians, and divorce, among others.
And indeed, among dozens of street children this newspaper met in the past two weeks mainly in Nyabugogo, not one said he had been living in an orphanage before.
Child care reform
In March 2012, the cabinet approved the National Strategy for Child Care Reform which seeks to transform Rwanda’s current child care and protection system into a family-based care and family-strengthening system. Since then, at least 2,000 out of 3,323 children and young adults have been reintegrated into families, while 11 out of 33 orphanages have placed all children in alternative care.
Early this month, Migeprof in collaboration with the police and the City of Kigali, collected some children and sent them to transit centres across the country in which they are being prepared for reintegration into families.
According to the police spokesman Celestin Twahirwa, street life threatens people’s security as it is associated with theft, drugs abuse, gambling and prostitution.
“Most of the people living on the street have social or psychological problems which make them so desperate that they do not fear to commit crimes in public. The government helps them with counselling and reintegration into society for their welfare. They are given vocational training and capital to start small businesses,” he said.
When it comes to children, however, Gasinzigwa said that they are looking into a law which would punish reckless parenting that pushes children into the street.
Francois Bisengimana, the director of Adoption, Protection and Promotion of Child Rights at the National Commission for Children (NCC), said they have adopted the initiative Inshuti z’Umuryango (Friends of the Family) across the country to encourage effective parenting within families.
“Citizens are helping us to choose two model parents (a father and a mother) in every village to advise other families. The selection has been completed in 17 districts, and all 30 districts will be covered by the end of March, and then we will train the selected Inshuti z’Umuryango. This initiative will mitigate family problems which force children to leave home, depriving them of their rights,” Bisengimana said.
Article 18 of the Constitution of Rwanda stresses that both parents have the right and responsibility to raise their children while the State puts in place appropriate legislation and organs for the protection of the family, particularly the child and mother, to ensure that the family flourishes. Article 19 indicates that a child has the right to specific mechanisms of protection by his or her family, other Rwandans and the State.