It is defined as the basic and smallest unit of society. Every person wants to belong to this unit. In fact, how one is raised within this unit largely determines whether they will be responsible adults or not. We are talking about a family. Is today's family institution like that of back in the days, when a family was a nursery bed of nurturing people who grew up to become adults with values and high levels of responsibility? The answer will depend on who you talk to.
May 15 was the International Day of Families, and this year's focus was raising awareness on the role of families in promoting early childhood education and lifelong learning opportunities for children and youth.
The family setting in the modern world has changed over the years. Bishop John Rucyahana says these changes have had both positive and negative influences on the families.
The 71-year-old, however, notes that some changes in the modern family institution have mostly affected the children.
"Parents today are also too busy to take care of their children at home and are instead being taken care of by house helps who come from different family backgrounds and disciplines, with some who have no values. The children are left with the television which exposes them to foreign vices contrary to the traditional family values," he says.
Rucyahana strongly believes that the family values are being eroded in the quest for material prosperity.
"We are being controlled by our products rather than us controlling them. Today's family is condition driven. The most affected is the urban family as it is mostly abandoned resulting in members resorting to drugs as a way of solace for them. Most of them are being abused by the people we least expect," he says.
Jackline Iribagiza, a Kigali-based counsellor, cites poor communication and improper education amongst families as one factor that is tearing families apart.
"Traditional families valued informal education; we do not find it relevant in this era. It's a problem that happens when we do not plan our time properly. With the current global developments, investing more time in income generating activities is mandatory, but then parents have to plan their time properly and give room for their children to learn from them rather than leaving them in the hands of their house helps and teachers," she says.
Sarah Umutesi, a wife and mother of three, also argues that the rise in divorce cases and single parenthood have had a major impact on families.
"Divorce and single parenthood are to be blamed for the poor upbringing of the children and emotional breakdown of families. People are moving towards a more individualistic lifestyle. Young couples are filled with the belief that they can run their lives by themselves and have lost a sense of responsibility," she says.
Rucyahana also agrees that single parenthood was very rare in the past despite the shortcomings and abuse that couples experienced, as traditional families had a way to manage their issues through proper communication, which is no longer in place.
"Today's society is losing its humility and sense of dependence and is quickly being replaced with a manipulative culture. We are materialistic. The maids are messing up the families and taking over them. People have to come back to their human sense and responsibility," he says.
Marcel Sibomana, the Child Rights Governance Manager at Save the Children, notes that lack of proper parental skills amongst some parents leads to child abuse as such parents are known for taking improper disciplinary actions on their children. For him, this is a generational cycle, that if not well addressed can have a toll on the future of the children.
"When conflicts arise in homes, children who are not well disciplined resort to finding their own solution and the result is usually drug abuse and violence because there isn't a proper relationship between them and their parents," he says.
What can be done to restore the family setting?
Despite challenges in the modern family, they continue to be one of the most important sources of support, love and meaning in people's lives, argues Sibomana.
Rwanda is doing a commendable job in securing families for the sake of the upbringing of the children by tackling violence, food insecurity and emotional as well as physical abuse.
"Once the families are secure, then we are sure that children can also enjoy their rights," he says.
"Anything that unites a family is based on who they are and what they want to become together. A family's success should not be defined by their wealth but rather, their values and sustainability of who they are. Parents need to not only give more time for their children but also themselves," Rucyahana says.
Iribagiza advises that activities that keep the family together such as praying, attending church or events together can help ease communication and resolve the challenges in the home.
"It is true that a family that prays together, will always stick together," Iribagiza says.
The role of religion
Religion, Christianity and Islam, teaches that the family institution was ordained by God through the first man, Adam and his wife Eve. Several teachings in religious books guide families on how they should be handled.
"There are scriptures in the Bible that teach parents how to treat their children and vice versa. It also emphasises the need for genuine love. It gives us a picture of what the family should look like," says Reverand Francis Kabango of Anglican Evangelical Remera.
He argues that it is not only up to the government to condemn abuse and violence but that the church should also step in to emphasise these teachings and divorce should also be discouraged.
"As an institution we don't promote divorce and we try so hard to protect the marriages and work towards resolving the issues, "he says.
Sheikh Yusuf Mugisha of Masjid Al Quidsi Mosque, Kacyiru, also reveals that Islam teaches that family upbringing should be taken with caution because the family background of a spouse matters most in Islamic marriages.
"The family upbringing will be accountable on the day of judgement and the choice of the spouse. Islam teaches that one should choose a spouse based on their family background and what they believe in. Being religious does not change a person's character but rather, how they are shaped from childhood. We believe in the notion that charity begins at home," he says.
Dealing with domestic violence and child abuse
Rwanda ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which forbid violence towards children. However, 2016 statistics from 'Humanium', an international children's rights organisation, indicate that 58 per cent of boys and 66 per cent of girls reported abuse at home.
Figures from Rwanda National Police show that the number of domestic assaults last year was 558 with females being the most affected as they cover 377 while their male counterparts were 179, with at least 142 people, including 78 females, dying as a result of domestic violence last year.
"We need to raise awareness, with the government at the forefront of helping in raising family issues. Government should allocate its budget to address issues related to children and invest more resources in children. Also, the available laws against child abuse and domestic abuse should be enforced," says Sibomana.
What are the problems affecting family units?
I blame the 'break down' on materialism that is eating the institution. It is materialism that makes many opt for divorce because their needs or expectations from their spouses were not fully met. People should choose their spouses based on genuine love.
Ruth Uwera, businesswoman
Moral decay incites adultery and violence, the leading factors wrecking homes and families. This is blamed on the abandonment of religious and cultural practices that help instill morality in individuals.
Mariane Mutesi, accountant
Insufficiency in homes causes parents to take on more jobs to earn a living rather than spend more time with their children. In turn, the children raise themselves, and pick up habits from 'corrupt' maids or peers.
Godwin Ganza, IT specialist
Cultural practices, especially in rural areas, tend to promote patriarchal tendencies and do not give women the authority to exercise their rights. Violence and emotional abuse then creeps in, and the end result is home breakage.
Stuart Uwizeye, businessman