9 November 2017

Rwanda: How Can We Keep Our Children Off Streets?

opinion

Every morning, 8-year old Pascal (not real name) is accompanied by his 11-year old sister to Kimironko Taxi Park to beg. Pascal suffers from lower limbs paralysis.

This is the third year he's been begging on the street.

"We are poor, our mom is very sick and she can't work," said Pascal in a low husky voice and looking down, rather sheepishly.

With difficulty, Pascal traverses all corners of the park begging from passengers and passers-by. Most often, he will not speak; he just looks at someone gesturing with an open hand.

His sister said they leave home at around 4a.m and make their way back at around 9p.m.

She said she dropped out of school after her parents said they could not afford tuition fees and scholastic materials. She was in primary two.

"I come here with my brother every single day and I keep the money he gets while watching over him to ensure he is safe," said his sister, who closely trails her young brother everywhere he goes.

She said that one day police picked her up and took her to Gikondo Transit Centre, commonly known as Kwa Kabuga, where she spent a month.

"They allowed me to talk to my parents on phone but they refused to come and pick me or at least visit me," she said.

She said she would like to return to school if she had the means.

Built house from son's begging proceeds

Fredrick (not real name) is another physically impaired boy who also begs from Kimironko.

Unlike Pascal, Frederick, 10, comes to the street to beg before or after school. He's still in primary one.

He said he begs to help his mother who can't afford to meet the family's basic needs. He says he hands all the money he collects from well-wishers to his mother.

"It takes a lot of courage to do this," he says.

His mother, Aline Mukabazindutsi, used to rent but she now owns a small house thanks to her begging son, she proudly tells us.

She and her five children live in a two-room bedroom house in Murama Cell in Kinyinya Sector, Gasabo District.

"Their father left us a couple of years ago. At the time, we could even go two days without a meal," she said.

Its amdist those challenges that Fredrick approached his mother and asked for permission to take to the street to beg for some coins so they can afford to buy food, she recollects emotionally.

"I couldn't refuse as I was not able to offer basic needs for my children. He would bring Rwf500 or Rwf1000 and we could get food and life continued," she said.

Mukabazindutsi, who says she sometimes gets part-time jobs working in fields and other odd jobs, said her daily wage was Rwf1000 a day which was barely enough to meet all the family needs.

"I, however, managed to save some of what I got from him (Fredrick) and later bought a plot of land and then built a house on it from his money," he said. "Presently, he doesn't go there (on the street to beg) on a daily basis, I want him to concentrate on school," she said.

But he doesn't like school that much, she says. "He says his classmates sometimes make him feel uncomfortable because of his physical disability".

Vianney Habiyambere, the social economic and development officer in Murama Cell, said ignorance and carelessness of some parents are one of the reasons children drop out of school, despite efforts to keep all children in the country in school.

"Most of them give an excuse that they don't have means to send their children to school although they barely make an effort," said Habiyambere.

All children from households that fall in the first category under the Ubudehe social stratification programme have to study regardless of means, he said.

He said that at the village level, Umugoroba w'Ababyeyi (a grassroots platform that brings together community members to address local issues) is helping to sensitise parents to prioritise the education of their children and to observe their children's rights.

A breakdown in parental care

Philbert Nizeyimana, the official in charge of planning, monitoring and evaluation at the National Rehabilitation Service (NRS), said they are working on a plan that will help get children off the streets.

Normally, when Police takes children from the streets (either begging or involved in juvenile delinquency), they are taken to Gikondo Transit Centre, he said.

"The centre subsequently alerts NRS and then the children are transferred to Gitagata Rehabilitation Centre in Bugesera District from where they are rehabilitated for a period of between three and six months before returning them to their families".

Sometimes when the facility is full, authorities work together with partners who run private children centres to have them take the children in, he added.

He said most of the children in the streets are a result of a breakdown in parental care.

"We want to work with local leaders to address these challenges," the official said. "The excuse of poverty is not valid because there are several social protection programmes designed to offer support to poorest members of society, so there should not reason to send any child to beg, let alone one with a disability."

Emmanuel Ndayisaba, the Executive Secretary of the National Council of People with Disabilities, said that next month they will approach all street beggars in urban centres to assess their problems.

"If we are to address this problem we must approach it from the root, which is at the family level," he said.

Marcel Sibomana, the child rights governance manager at Save The Children, said that addressing this issue requires, first, a thorough assessment of the situation and then setting aside a specific budget to help address children issues in the community.

"Districts should do the assessment and come up with reliable statistics of children with special needs and then allocate a budget to fix these problems," he said.

He said many children are dropping out school because of poverty despite the fact that basic education is free in Rwanda.

Sibomana said parents should be a major focus group. Parents must understand that it's their obligation to keep children in school, he said.

According to the National Integrated Child Rights Policy, abuse, exploitation and violence against children are intolerable. It says that all children will be protected anywhere they may be.

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