District education officers say they are stepping measures to curb the high school dropout rate by co-opting parents to ensure children remain in class until they graduate.
They were reacting to a recent report by the Ministry of Education (Mineduc) which showed that the dropout rate was still high, standing at 11.6 -12.3 percent among boys and 10.6-12.2 percent for girls.
The report was presented to stakeholders who had gathered in Kigali last week to review challenges in the education sector.
While participants urged Mineduc to carry out a study on the causes, some district education officials said that some of the causes were well known. They include poverty that pushes children out of school to engage in child labour to earn a living.
Some parents, the officials said, urge children to stay away from school because they help supplement family incomes.
Last year, Rubavu District topped the dropout rate with more than one hundred students abandoning school.
“Some children went to work in tea plantations, while others stayed at home to look after their younger brothers/sisters as their parents cross the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to earn a living,” Eustache Nturano, the DEO said.
To remedy this, the district built a day-care centre for children of mothers with low income.
“They leave children in the morning, and come to breastfeed them around noon. They return to the neighboring country, and come back to pick the children in the evening,” he said.
In Rubavu and other districts with tea plantations, DEOs say students are dropping out to work in tea plantations.
Alexis Kabandana, Nyaruguru DEO, said that for the last two years, tea was the main cause of the high rate of school dropouts with planting and harvesting as the main activity.
“We reached out to tea factories, returned all the children to school and agreed with the factory owners that it was prohibited to use children their activities,” he said, adding that any tea factory that failed to comply would be penalised.
“The factory owners used to go for juvenile manpower, because it is cheaper. But they had to give it up because labor inspectors reject the tea products when they find out that production involved child labor,” said Marc Habimana, Nyamagabe DEO.
While other children worked in construction sites, Pastor Jean Marie Vianney Gasana, the chairman of Urukumbuzi, a real estate company based in Gasabo District, said they avoid employing children.
“We only work with adults. In order to avoid child labourers, we make sure all lighter tasks like fetching water and cleaning are done by women,” he said.
Since last year, all districts in the country have put in place community education volunteers to monitor education activities in their respective villages. For example, when a child takes three to four days without reporting to school, they follow up the matter.
In Rubavu, the district council decided that whenever parents are found responsible for their child’s absence from school, they are fined Rwf 5000; while an individual involving a child in any form of labour is compelled to return the child to school and pay school fees and provide all scholastic materials.
Damien Nzamwita, in charge of child labor control in the Ministry of Public Service and Labor, said “the country has the political will to fight child labour, and thus, eliminating chances of children dropping out school to work.”
He said the only challenge remains with parents who use children in domestic work.