The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion has committed to devising means of addressing child-neglect challenges in Rubavu district, mostly affecting families near the border post commonly known as Petite Barriere.
During a two-day tour that started on Thursday, January 26 in the district, Minister Espérance Nyirasafari was astonished of how children below five years were left under no care by their mothers who have to cross over to Congo for business.
Rubavu border is known to be the most used route to Congo with over 45,000 people crossing through to DRC, 90% of who are women.
About 74% of these women are traders and mothers who carry out cross-border informal trade.
Largely selling fruits in Goma and buy items for sell from Goma to Rwanda. Some mothers have to carry their children on their backs as they go to trade or leave them at the border.
“Children between six months and five years old are left at petite border, on shop verandahs by their mothers as they cross to Congo for business and back as this is the only way they earn a living,” said a migration officer as they hosted the minister at the border.
Local government officials expressed their concern and called upon government to intervene and find lasting solutions for the custody of children as mothers cross borders, a situation they say has been deteriorating.
However, some women at the border took this as an opportunity to earn a living as temporary babysitters.
Uwimana Beatrice, a babysitter near the border said that because she had no money to carry out any business around or even going to Congo, she decided to do this job since she is able to look after a minimum of three children which will earn her Rwf 1,200 a day.
Children in this place are exposed to all kinds of hazards including hunger, rape, poor upbringing and deprived of their rights such as parental care and education.
Scora Uwamahoro who is a cross-border trader and mother to one of the children left behind on the border says that they are forced to leave their children behind since they have no travel documents for them.
Scora says that purchasing a child’s travel document costs Rwf10, 000 which is expensive for them regarding their nature of income and that the procedures taken to get it are also lengthy.
However, the police in Rubavu district are doing their best to solve this issue through Community policing so as to build ties and work closely with members of the community to overcome crime by increasing police visibility in all communities.
Hon. Nyirasafari who said she had heard of such cases of child-neglect at the border, was shocked at seeing toddlers lying helplessly at the shop verandahs and at petite border on Thursday, January 26 when she began her tour of the area.
Addressing journalists later that day, she said that a solution for the situation had to be found as soon as possible because every child in Rwanda matters.
“As a ministry and government of Rwanda, we cannot sit down and watch our nation’s children go through this. We must have a solution to this situation as soon as possible because even just one life of a Rwandan matters to the country,” she said.
Hon. Nyirasafari also added that it is right for women to be hardworking by engaging into business so as to earn a living but should not forget their responsibilities as mothers.
The Minister promised that the government will establish an early childhood development center at the border where mothers can leave their children and access all necessary requirements for their proper growth as their mothers practice cross-border trade with DRC.
Early Childhood Development center is a place where children are able to receive health care, registration, immunization, parental care and other basics for their well upbringing.
She also said that in collaboration with other stakeholders like MINEACOM, they will establish a cross-border market that will bring together all the traders from both countries under one roof to avoid the number of mothers who have to cross to DRC in the name of business.
Minister Nyirasafari also encouraged people of Rubavu to make use of Isange One Stop Center in Gisenyi hospital which she also visited. In this place, children, women and men who are victims of Gender-Based Violence or child abuse receive medical attention, counseling and legal advice.
In this particular center, two children all aged 18 years were reported raped by their own fathers and one who was being sold for prostitution by her mother. These children were taken up by Hopes and Homes for children which offered to take care of them and also to offer them education.
Nyirasafari said that as the government keeps fighting against such crimes against children, 15 more Isange One Stop Centers will be put in place in every district hospitals in addition to the 28 centers already in place.
During her visit, the Minister also visited a transit center in Rubavu town where children that have been found homeless, lost their way home or forced to run away from their homes are given shelter for a while as they await to be reunited with their families or fostered with new families to take care of them.
At this center, a two-year old girl was found amongst other children who live there with no care taker since the only staff that was seen in place was a cook and a guard who are not responsible for these children’s wellbeing.
Finding this as a challenge, the Minister ordered that there must be proper procedures taken to maintain these transit centers including immediate caretakers so that incase of any young child brought to a transit center, they are taken and looked after.
The Minister cautioned women in the district to endeavor children’s rights are fulfilled as it is the government’s intention for every child in Rwanda to have a family in which they belong and also must acquire education.
At Ubumwe Community Center which was also visited, disabled children and adults are given special attention in different skills like hand craft, education, physiotherapy and health care among many.
The Minister urged for cooperation and close collaboration between the Police, Local government, Ministry of health, Ministry of education, parents and children in the fight against child abuse and any other kind of Gender Based Violence in the area and the country as whole.
Migeprof and other stakeholders pledged their support to the center as they said that they will work hand in hand to see these children acquire all necessary equipment and any other support for their wellbeing as they attain their education in this center and even after completing their education.