IN Rwanda, the scale back on the number of orphanages across the country is in process. There are 34 orphanages across Rwanda excluding institutions of disabled children. One orphanage, Mpore Mpefa orphanage in Gikondo, Kigali is in process of reinstating its children.
In Rwanda, it is the Government's policy that children should live with families and not in institutions. The act of reinstating children from orphanages to families is in line with the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which defines a child as a human being below the age of 18 years.
It also acknowledges that children are entitled to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, thought, religion, and conscience. It aims at protecting the private life of the child and safeguards it against all forms of economic exploitation or anything that interferes with the child's education, or compromises his or her health or physical, social, mental, spiritual, and moral development.
This shift in events comes with a fair share of concern that the children will be alienated and placed in strange families.
However, the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion with some partners like Hope and Homes for Children, said that they aim at making the process achievable without affecting the wellbeing of the orphaned children.
Benilde Uwababyeyi, Child Protection Specialist within the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) says that some people are getting misguided truths about the process of reinstating children from orphanages to families.
"We can't just take children out of the orphanages and place them into families. It's a process that will take a lot of time and requires patience. A lot is required, for instance, a child has to be emotionally ready to move and the family that takes them in is supposed to be prepared for its responsibilities," Uwababyeyi explains.
She emphasizes that during the process, priority will be given to close relatives if there are any.
"The families that will take up children will be closely monitored and so will the children. If help is needed in any way, we will offer it. It will be a gradual process since a lot is at stake especially the children's wellbeing which is our priority," she discloses.
People willing to adopt children will be put into consideration and they will be accountable for their wellbeing.
Thirteen children from Mpore Mpefa orphanage have been reinstated in families since the programme started in January, 2011.
"Imagine in just eight months those are the only children that have found families. This proves that the process is gradual and very sensitive," Uwababyeyi said.
Through the gradual downsizing of these orphanages, a lot of emphasis is placed on creating awareness that children deserve the right to family and protection. The longest serving orphanages will also have to comply with the policy. No orphanage has been exempted from the programme.
Several behavioral problems among children living in orphanages such as low self-esteem as a result of stereotypes and stigma have affected them in their course of life.
Innocent Habinfura, Head of Programme Management at Hope and Homes for Children, a non government organization that works with orphans, said that although the programme is challenging, it is achievable.
"Children growing up from institutions are affected in several ways, for instance they are mostly stigmatized," Habinfura said.
He argues that orphanages offer entry but, lack a strategy for exit thus affecting the children's future.
"A new child protection strategy will be put in place so that children who are abandoned are brought up in a proper family setting instead of orphanages. In fact, in areas where orphanages exist, the rate of children getting abandoned is high compared to areas without such facilities," says Habinfura.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in its preamble acknowledges a family as the fundamental unit of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of children. It also states that the family should be able to meet the expense of the necessary protection and assistance of children so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.
Hope and Homes for Children and MIGEPROF say they are ready for the challenge and are hopeful that they can pull off this tasking venture, and ensure that all vulnerable children in Rwanda are loved and raised in proper homes and families.