Realizing Children’s Rights in Rwanda
Rwanda at a Glance
Rwanda is a small landlocked country in East Africa bordered by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the west, Tanzania to the east, Uganda to the north, and Burundi to the south. Rwanda has one of the highest population densities in Africa with a young, mostly rural population, estimated at 12.3 million. Rwanda’s political, social, and economic context was profoundly affected by the civil war in early 1990, and the genocide of 1994. Despite this, Rwanda has made significant progress towards economic prosperity and human development in the last two decades. In efforts to realize its Vision 2020 development Plan, Rwanda has implemented two five-year economic development and poverty reduction strategies (EDPRS I & EDPRS II). Political stability, strong governance, fiscal and administrative decentralization, and zero tolerance for corruption are among the key factors which have contributed to the country’s economic growth. Notwithstanding, these achievements Rwanda still faces several development challenges impacting the safeguarding of children including; chronic malnutrition (stunting), early childhood development, neonatal mortality, quality education, and prevention of violence against children.
Status of Children’s Rights
Children represent a large percentage of the Rwandan population, with 42.9% of the population between ages 0 and 14 and a median age of 18.8. In addition, children make up 83.5% percentage of Rwanda’s rural population, often living in precarious situations. Children living in rural areas often have limited access to fundamental needs such as nutrition, access to healthcare, education, and protection. Rwanda’s very young population is one consequence of the horrific genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994, where about 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed in only about 4 weeks. The negative repercussions of the massacre, along with current development challenges, continue to affect the lives of Rwanda’s children in various ways. Law N.54, passed in 2011, has already greatly promoted children’s rights in Rwanda. The passing of this law included the creation of the National Commission for Children, a governmental organization to specifically promote children’s rights. It is clear that promoting children’s rights is a government priority, that is enshrined within the constitution and are protected in legislation. However, Rwandan youth and children are not yet able to fully enjoy them, as a result of gaps and inequalities related to the implementation and enforcement of child-related laws and policies. Given the percentage of children and the growing number of births in Rwanda each year, it is essential that the rights of these infants, and children in general, are protected.
Realization of Children’s Rights Index:
Realization of Children’s Rights Index:
Population: 12 million
Life expectancy: 65,2 years
Child-sensitive Social Protection
Social protection is essential for preventing and reducing poverty for children and families, for addressing inequalities, and for realizing children’s rights. In addition, it is essential that social protection programmes respond to children’s vulnerabilities by optimizing positive effects for children and minimizing potential adverse consequences. Children in Rwanda often face vulnerabilities exacerbated by a range of risk factors which severely impact their well-being and capacity to promote and realize children’s rights. Child-sensitive social protection has the opportunity to address chronic poverty, social exclusion, and external shocks which can irreversibly affect children. In Rwanda the government has made efforts to amend the Vision Umurenge Social Protection (VUP) programme, to include child-sensitive social protection options aimed at responding to child poverty and vulnerabilities. Despite this, many children and families continue to face barriers accessing basic social services. As such, it is important that policies, legislation, and regulations effectively consider the viewpoint of children, youth, and their caregivers- so that children’s rights are met.
Addressing the needs of children
Right to health
In Rwanda, a child’s right to health is jeopardised from the youngest age. Even before birth, the enjoyment of this right is impacted by a high rate of infant mortality, approaching the 30 deaths per 1.000 live births. In the event the child survives until birth, access to this essential right remains difficult with an important neonatal mortality reaching 20 deaths per 1000 live births most often due to neonatal illnesses representing 29% of causes of deaths within health facilities. Despite the rising number of health facilities across the country, children face numerous health challenges such as diseases like Malaria being the cause of 6% of deaths within hospitals and HIV holding 3%. The full enjoyment of Rwandan children’s right to health is a serious concern.
Right to education
Rwanda’s educational system is considered to be one of the most progressive in Africa with free and mandatory access to primary and lower-secondary education system (until grade 9). Close to 100% of Rwandan children are enrolled in primary school, and 73% of children aged 15 or older are considered as literate. Nonetheless, the attendance rate of secondary school remains importantly low, representing only 23% of children. In addition, 77% of children attending secondary school attend it at an inappropriate age. Access to education is primordial in a developing country like Rwanda. School enrolment not only enables to escape or avoid child labour, but it also develops the children’s knowledge and skills needed to impact society and its growth.
Right to identity and nationality
91% of Rwandan children are born in health facilities, amongst these only 50% are registered into the sector Civil Registry, thus have access to a birth certificate. As a result, the 3 quarters left are unregistered thus at risk of not being protected by the government. Birth registration is a fundamental right as it provides the child a name, parentage, nationality, and age. It also represents a proof of identity, a sign of existence in the eyes of society, granting him automatic protection from the government against trafficking and forced labour.
Right to non-discrimination
Rwandan laws guarantee all citizens equal treatment and protection against discrimination. However, despite the great progress the country has made to provide equality within ethnic minorities, some disparities remain. With the example of the Batwa community, representing 1% of the Rwandan population, the community still exercises difficulties in accessing services directly impacting their right to health and education. As a result, they display a higher rate of infant mortality, diseases, and malnutrition consequently suffering from a shorter average life expectancy. In addition, they have been directly impacted by the growth of the agricultural sector in the country, causing them to lose access to ancestral lands with no compensation. As a result, the community is considered to live in conditions of great hardship, suffering from extreme poverty and social exclusion.
The LGBTQ+ community has also been a target of discrimination. Although Rwanda remains one of the rare African countries to not have criminalised homosexuality, the societal context is still strongly stigmatising towards individuals of this community. The stigmatisation often causes great hardship in the access and enjoyment of their right to health.
Risk factors →Country-specific challenges
Poverty, malnutrition, and access to water
Adequate nutrition and supply in water are critical to a child’s health directly impacting his growth and cognitive development. Poor nutrition of the mother can have negative effects on the baby in the womb, which can then extend into adulthood and across generations. Malnutrition or poor nutrition are still responsible for a great number of deaths in Rwanda but also impacts educational achievements and productivity. Poverty is one of the main causes for malnutrition in Rwanda, with 38.2% of the population living in poverty; including 16% in extreme poverty. As a result, 38% of children under the age of 5 are stunted, with 49% of them being in the poorest quintile. In addition to poor nutrition, children in Rwanda often face difficulties accessing water. Although great improvement has been made regarding the access to water, issues of quality and availability remain, most importantly in rural areas. There exists clear uneven access to sanitised water across the country, with the poorest populations being the first impacted. It is estimated that around 74% of the Rwanda population living in the poorest quintile, do not have access to clean water in comparison to 34% for the wealthiest quintile. This disparity has a direct impact on children’s health, minimising access to decent hygiene, thus raising the likelihood of transmission of diseases.
Post-war context and forced labour/trafficking
One of the main characteristics of Rwanda’s population is its low average age. Indeed, individuals under 15 years old represent more than half of the total population, with 52% of the population aged 19 years or younger. This is one of the direct consequences of the 1994 genocide. This dark side of the Rwandan history has had terrible consequences on children, with over 10% of those aged between 0 to 17 years old being orphans. As a result, numerous children were left as leader of the family, thus have had to choose work over education in order to provide for the rest of the family.
In addition, Rwanda has for the past years become an important source, transit and/or destination country for individuals caught in forced labour and sex trafficking. Children are taken away from education and are thrown in the spiral of organised crimes. Rwandan girls are forced in domestic work, mistreated and once pregnant thrown away by their employers where, due to shame and stigma, have nowhere to go thus are subjected to sex trafficking. Similar situations occur for Rwandan boys, being subjected to forced labour in domestic, agricultural and industrial sectors. The government is yet to put more proactive efforts in the search, apprehension, and conviction of traffickers, along with the provision of long-term care facilities for the victims.
Teen pregnancy, stigma and registration access
There exist many challenges limiting the registration of Rwandan children and it represents a real issue within the country. In fact, a non-registered child is considered as a non-existent child according to the government. A birth certificate provides the child with the most basic rights, such as having a name, parentage, nationality, and age. It also enables enrolment in school, application for a driving licence and other official papers such as passport or identity card when the child becomes an adult. Being registered also provides the child with adequate protection by the state, for example in cases of child trafficking or forced labour, the knowledge of the age of the child is crucial to further prosecutions. The child’s official proof of existence to authorities enable access to government programs such as Inkongoro y’Umwana focusing on providing free nutritional benefits to the child living in poor households.
However, child registration in Rwanda remains importantly insufficient. In 2016, 17,500 children were born from teen pregnancy, and a majority of them were not registered by the state. At the root of this issue lies the fact that most teen mothers are the result of sexual abuse, thus do not meet the requirement of presence of the husband during the first antenatal visit. In addition, most teen mothers do not own an identity card at the moment of registration due to the legal requirement of being at least 16 years old in order to own one. Consequently, the mothers either register their baby under their parents’ name or do not register him at all.
The requirement of presence of the husband during medical visits and most importantly during registration is a big factor in the lack of registration. Single mothers often face stigmatisation and fear the responsibility of not having the father legally recognised by the strict process.
Finally, access to registration facilities used to play an important role in the low registration rate. However, the government of Rwanda has recently changed its policy, enabling health facilities to complete the process. 91% of Rwandan children are born at health facilities, therefore enabling registration in hospitals is vital, as it avoids parents having to travel to local administrations. As a result of this new law, parents could also incur penalties if they failed to register the child within the 15 days period post-birth.
Culture and history of Rwanda
At the root of the ethnic discriminations taking place in Rwanda lies certain historical and cultural factors impacting the modern politics of the country. In fact, following the 1994 genocide, the Rwandan Constitution was amended in order to reject ethnic classification. This political and legal change was made in an effort to eliminate any type of division, discrimination and to promote national unity. Nonetheless, the non-recognition of minorities directly impacts the free and full enjoyment of these individuals’ rights and ignores their specific needs.
Last update: Warda DUALE & Maureen FAUCONNIER (FEB 2019)