There is need for more collaboration to successfully track down and prosecute suspects involved in child sex abuse, a rights meeting has heard.
The meeting in Kigali on Tuesday brought together officials from Rwanda Human Rights Commission, Police, prosecution, courts, public institutions and civil society with responsibilities of protecting children rights.
The meeting was convened to discuss child sex crimes as highlighted in different reports such as defilement.
The rights body said reports show that over 1,400 children were sexually abused in 2013-2014, over 1,879 in 2014/15, while 1,917 cases were reported in 2015-2016.
Madeleine Nirere, the chairperson of Rwanda Human Rights Commission, said more stringent measures and strategic actions would be devised to fight the vice after assessing gaps in policies, laws as well as in implementation.
She called for heavier punitive measures for child sex abusers, and support for victims, proper integration, compensation as well as justice.
“Crimes of sex-based violence rank fourth from tenth previously among the most registered cases by prosecution and other organs. They also rank second among those mostly pursued by Supreme Court,” Nirere said, noting that child labour was among the vices that aggravate sexual abuse.
Statistics estimate that over 146,000 children face child labour in the country.
“Such situation makes children vulnerable to sexual abuse, leading to unwanted pregnancies,” Nirere said.
The Commission said it has set up a ‘Children Rights Observatory’ composed of seven persons in every sector across the country charged with reporting cases of children rights violations.
Christine Umubyeyi, the director of legislative and human rights at the Commission, said reports from June 2016 to March 2017 by Children Rights Observatory indicate that 13,587 children had their rights denied in various ways.
These include deprivation of education, health, property, birth registration, being engaged in child labour in sexual abuse, among others.
“We have started investigation on 13,587 children and have discovered 247 sensitive cases in the course of our investigation, of which 56 are sexual abuse,” she added.
Evariste Murwanashyaka, a child rights activist, said their survey in 52 sectors in some 10 districts of the country last year found that 818 children were impregnated in one year.
“In February, in conjunction with Police, we took 180 cases to courts and arrested 30 men who impregnated the children, and got prosecution of six,” Murwanashyaka said.
Challenges in prosecuting suspects
Beline Mukamana, the director for Anti-Gender-Based Violence and Child Abuse Directorate at Rwanda National Police, said timely reporting of cases by victims remains a serious challenge.
“Such a crime should be reported within 72 hours so that we even save them from potential sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy or to help us get immediate evidence,” she said.
Other challenges Mukamana cited include bribery of victims to silence them or entice them to decline testifying against suspects, lack of birth registration as one of the tools used by prosecution to file case, and lack of prosecution witnesses.
Angelique Habyarimana, an inspector at the National Public Prosecution Authority, urged local leaders to seek ways of ensuring timely reporting to help prosecution.
Emmanuel Itamwa Mahame, the spokesperson for the Judiciary, said cases of child sexual abuse have been accorded priority.