GICUMBI - Celestine Twagiramukiza aged 12 in the company of his two sisters Fisi and Claudine, have to travel 18km journey daily to fetch water from a swamp for their family’s domestic use. They are residents of Kinyami Cell in Rukomo Sector, Gicumbi District.
Speaking to The New Times on Wednesday, Twagiramukiza who is the eldest child in the family of eight said they have to perform tasks such as fetching firewood in the neighborhood and washing cooking utensils.
“Our parents leave to cultivate land every morning and return at midday to cook for us, that is why we have to ensure that water is available and all cooking utensils are washed,” said Twagiramukiza.
They said that they are unable to attend school like others, because of the poverty of their parents and the many domestic cores they have to fulfill daily.
Their mother Steria Kankindi earns a living through cultivating land for local residents of Kinyami cell. She is paid peanuts for day’s work.
“I am paid Rwf400 per day for digging and cultivating residents’ crops,” said Kankindi. She further said the amount she earns is not enough to cater for the purchase of children’s school uniforms and books.
In addition to being subjected to hard labor by their parents, the children also admitted to being exploited by Rukomo trading center restaurant owners, who send them to fetch water from far in exchange for a few pennies.
“Restaurant owners pay us Rwf20 for a full five liter container,” said 8 year-old Fisi.
The three children are among many rural under age lads subjected to hard labour by their parents. According to the International and National Laws advocating for children rights to education and care, child labour hinders the proper upbringing of children.
The subjection of Rwandan children below the age of 16 is considered as child labor. The 2002 population and housing census statistics indicate that a total of 352,550 rural children are reported to be engaged in child labor through performing agricultural related activities.
As a result, many rural children have failed to access basic education because most of their time is spent in farmlands.
This continued denial of an education to rural children, has further created a vicious cycle of poverty, where children subjected to exploitative labor grow up as impoverished adults, because they can’t find skilled labor to fend for their livelihood.
Joseph Mutuyemungu, their father says the children are unable to attend school because of financial constraints on his part.
“I have no money to buy uniforms and exercise books for these children”, he said.
Asked why as parents, they don’t practice family planning to bring up children they are able to educate and feed, Mutuyemungu seemed ignorant of the family planning government program.
“My children are a gift from God. I can’t dictate the number of children we should produce,” said Mutuyemungu.
In a 2006 International Labor organization (ILO) global report on child labor further indicates that a total of 49.3 million children below the age of 15 in sub-Saharan Africa, are fully engaged in hard labor economic activities.
The ILO report calls upon states to take stringent measures to protect children against all forms of exploitative labor.
Rukomo Sector Executive Secretary, Olivier Munyurangabo says measures have been put in place to defend children rights.
“The heads of villages (Mudugudu) have the responsibility to report to Cell Authorities, any parent or person who subjects children to child labor or who denies them the right to education,” said Munyurangabo.
Munyurangabo further said that, “traders at Rukomo trading center, who employ under age children to fetch water shall be dealt with in accordance with the law.”
Eugenie Uwamahoro, Gicumbi District Vice Mayor in charge of Social Affairs, attributed the continued child labor to the failure of local leaders from performing their duties, particularly the ones in-charge of cell social affairs.
“All the cells in-charge of social affairs got Bicycles, donated by Save The Children to facilitate them in their primary role of observing children rights in their localities,” said Uwamahoro.
She added that more sensitization campaigns are required to create awareness against using under age children to perform hard labor in tea plantations and homesteads.
Uwamahoro further said local leaders at the village (Umudugudu) level should liaise with Cell and Sector Authorities, to report for legal action those parents who deliberately deny their children the right to education, who instead prefer to subject the children to hard labor.
“In addition, traders who lure children into hard labor during the course of carrying out their businesses will be penalised,” she warned.
The call to defend children rights was voiced by various personalities during recent celebrations to mark the International Women’s Day at Cyumba Sector in Gicumbi District.
In her address to the gathering, the Vice President of the Senate Marie Mukantabana, called on parents to be on the forefront to defend children against all forms of physical and psychological torture.
“Children should be accorded their basic rights to bring them up as future responsible citizens”, said Mukantabana.
Mukantabana further called for parents to practice family planning to bring up a minimum number of children, whom they can educate and care for.