Three years since the government kicked off search for foster families for children living in orphanages and subsequently started to close down the facilities, the Minister for Gender and Family Promotion Esperance Nyirasafari says several children living with severe disabilities may permanently be under government care because the magnitude of their disability lowers their chances of finding homes.
Nyirasafari announced this while appearing before members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Affairs to respond to concerns raised after the lawmakers visited orphanages of children living with disabilities.
The closure of the orphanages is in line with the national childcare reform strategy aimed at transforming Rwanda's current childcare and protection regime into a family-based system, where resources are targeted to support families and children.
When the programme kicked off, the National Children's Council said that there were 33 orphanages with 3325 children countrywide. By August last year, 14 orphanages had been closed and 2294 children adopted.
The minister told the MPs that by the beginning of the exercise, of the total number of children living in orphanages, 95 were living with disability and efforts to find them adoptive families were proving to be hard, something that she blames on the responsibility that comes with taking care of such children.
"Of the 95 children, only 38 were adopted. The government had to take another 24 out of the orphanages and rent four houses for them, where they live and receive specialised care because of the magnitude of their disabilities. There are 33 other children with disabilities who are still living in orphanages. Should they all not get adoptive families, the government will continue to look after them," she said.
Nyirasafari pointed to budgetary constraints among challenges.
"The budget from 2012-2017 was between Rwf114- Rwf122 million. This money is very little compared to the number of children that it is supposed to help and the magnitude of their needs but we have been managing with support from some organisations like Handicap International," she said.
She also talked of the issue of stigma whereby most of these children are rejected by society and written off as burdens.
MP Barthelemy Karinijabo pointed out the need for the National Children's Council (NCC) to look into the issue of providing financial support to orphanages depending on their needs.
"When we visited the institutions, we found out that NCC gives them the same financial support which was confusing because the gravity of each orphanage's challenges and the number of children that they support or even the children's needs are different. This needs to be looked into," he said.
Karinijabo also advised NCC to put more efforts into building a better and stronger relationship with grassroots players especially sector and district authorities who, he said, are instrumental in keeping an eye on the institutions and any malpractices within.
MP Pierre Claver Rwaka decried the mistreatment of such children, citing an institution in Huye District, Southern Province which the committee said was not appropriately feeding the children.
"The way some of these orphanages treat children is appalling. We went to one called ADAR Tubahoze and we were shocked that children only have one meal a day. On asking why, the caretakers told us that the children's disabilities made it hard for them to feed them. Can you imagine a child who is supposed to eat thrice a day only taking porridge in the morning and one meal at 2pm? This is unacceptable," he said.
Rwaka said orphanages that were found to lack minimum requirements should be immediately closed and only reopened after they have fixed what is needed.
On her part, MP Thacienne Mukandamage called on district authorities to keep an eye on the orphanages in their jurisdiction, stressing that what was happening in most areas did not suit the nation's children.
On the budget issue, Mukandamage said it was important to keenly look into how the money was being used.
"I don't think that this money is little. The issue here is that the money is not used the right way because most people who run these orphanages are doing this for personal gain. They are running these institutions as if they are personal businesses," she said.
MP Berthe Mujawamariya wondered if renting houses to accommodate children who have severe disabilities was sustainable.
"Renting houses doesn't seem to be a sustainable solution when it comes to these children. We have heard that the chances of these children being adopted are very slim. Why doesn't the government start building permanent homes for them?" she said.
This is not the first time Nyirasafari had been summoned over children living with disabilities. In October last year, the minister met the parliamentary committee on Unity, Human Rights and Fight against Genocide and tasked with finding well equipped and professionally staffed institutions for the children.