Parliament debates govt's plan to set up national rehab authority

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Dr Mukabaramba speaks at Parliament on Wednesday. Timothy Kisambira.

Members of the Lower House have approved the basis of a government’s draft law that seeks to establish a National Rehabilitation Service (NRS), paving way for the bill to be debated in a parliamentary committee before it is returned to the plenary.

Once established, the agency will be in charge of coordinating government efforts to prevent, rehabilitate, and reintegrate street children, drug addicts, prostitutes, and other delinquents back into society.

The move to set up the body seeks to provide a sustainable solution to the issue of street children, raise law-abiding and productive youth, and keep fighting criminal behaviours.

While introducing the bill in the House on Wednesday, the Minister of State for Community Development and Social Affairs, Dr Alvera Mukabaramba, told MPs that efforts to fight delinquency in the country were scattered and it was difficult for the government to follow-up on rehab programmes and make a difference.

There was also lack of a clear legal framework for setting up and managing both private and government rehabilitation and transit centres for delinquent children and adults, which will be addressed by the law establishing NRS because it will specify how it’s done.

“It became clear that an institution to coordinate such centres’ activities was lacking,” she said, also explaining that the move is a response to the issue of street children through prevention, rehabilitation, and reintegration.

While the proposed authority will also be in charge of monitoring transit centres and rehabilitation efforts for delinquents in Kigali and districts across the country, the minister said it will also go an extra mile to educate families about children’s rights as well as the dangers of domestic violence and the use of drugs.

Some MPs found the role of this body extremely complex and complicated, with some of them wondering if it won’t encourage criminals by giving them shelter instead of applying available laws to punish them.

It became clear at Wednesday’s session that a great deal of discussions will be held at the parliamentary committee level on how the government will strike the balance between social work and criminal prosecution in case some adult delinquents pose a threat to society.

“If it’s a body to coordinate rehab work for children, that’s fine but let adult criminals go to prison,” said MP Emmanuel Mudidi.

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MP Emmanuel Mudidi said that adult criminals should go to prison. Timothy Kisambira

MP Ignacienne Nyirarukundo agreed, suggesting that the government’s rehabilitation move shouldn’t come across as encouraging criminals.

“As for those who are adults, we need to prosecute them for their crimes instead of giving them care in rehab centres,” she said.

But Mukabaramba said that prosecution cannot be the only answer to harmful behaviours, essentially explaining that the government’s efforts to address delinquency will need both rehabilitation and prosecution efforts.

“There are behaviours that can be changed through rehabilitation instead of applying prosecution for everything. There is a way a drug-addict can be helped through rehabilitation,” she said.

Several MPs also recommended that the envisaged NRS should focus on preventing problems that bring children to the streets instead of helping those who end up there.

“Most issues we are talking about are based in families. Let’s look at the source of the problems and solve them from there. Before sending these people to rehabilitation centres we need to understand why they end up in drug abuse or sex work,” said MP Christine Muhongayire.

Minister Mukabaramba explained that the body will be in charge of prevention, rehabilitation, and reintegration efforts by working together with other government institutions to address the issue of delinquency while providing the right protection for children who end up on the street.

With the basis of the bill establishing NRS approved, debate on the law will proceed at parliamentary committee level before Parliament can finally pass or reject it.

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Speaker of Parliament Donatille Mukabalisa (L) chats with her deputy Hon Mukama Abbas at parliament on Wednesday. Timothy Kisambira.

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