SENATE - The current situation of children especially street children and orphans in the country is worrying and has made Senators summon Prime Minister Bernard Makuza to explain what the government is doing about it so far.
The issue of the children was brought to the Senate’s attention by the Senatorial Standing Committee on Social welfare, Human Rights and Petition headed by Senator Agnes Kayijire.
Kayijire’s committee had earlier forwarded a report to the Senate in which it listed difficulties faced by these children. Among them were the lack of education, social welfare, orphanages in poor conditions, adoption of children, and mistreatment of street children in the Transit Centre in Gikondo.
After a thorough assessment of the report, Senators sought explanations on the government’s efforts to provide a better life for children.
The Premier appeared in the company of the State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education Théoneste Mutsindashyaka, Gender and Family Promotion Minister Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya and the State Minister for Community Development and Social Affairs in the Ministry of Local Government Nyatanyi Christine.
Makuza first gave a lengthy presentation of government’s policies and plans for children to the curious Senators who later fired questions at him most of which centred on the Gikondo Transit Centre.
He said that the government will establish proper health conditions for the children, ensuring their rights especially the disabled, their social welfare and providing financial assistance.
“The government allocated Frw 238 million and Frw 250 million in the 2007 and 2008 national budgets respectively,” he added.
Makuza gave the current state of children in the country saying that since 1997, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV/Aids (PMTCT) Program, had reduced mother-to-child infections from 46,000 to 8,140 and children on antiretroviral drugs have increased from 14,000 to 29,059.
Speaking about the issue of street children, Makuza said that Rwanda is among the few countries with the least number of street children in the world. He however added that it was the government’s intention to have no street children in the future.
Controversial transit facility
Despite the policy presentation that the premier made, the Senate requested him to give a detailed explanation on the Gikondo transit centre, a facility that is allegedly more like a prison where children picked from the streets are kept for some months before they are transferred to either a rehabilitation centre or somewhere else.
Makuza told the Senate that the facility is established by the ministerial decree establishing rehabilitation and transit centres.
He further said that children who are put in the transit centre are normally less that 12 years of age and that they don’t spend there more than 2 months, a case contrary to Senator Kayijire’s committee findings.
Kayijire’s committee had found children of less than a year in the facility and those beyond 12 years, including women.
Makuza told the Senate that children between 12 to 14 years of age are directly taken to the rehabilitation centres and those beyond 18 are arrested and charged for loitering.
After Makuza’s presentation, there were enormous requests from Senators to have the centre closed or come up with clear policies guiding it.
“If there is anything wrong with the transit centre, let it be closed down and the government looks for other options.I am informed that some children spend over six months there which is more than the allowed period.” Senator Valens Munyabagisha said.
“This facility is more like a prison and it has turned children against the government. Now they look at the police as something that is totally against them and for that matter I stand to request the government to close the centre,” said Munyabagisha urged.
Munyabagisha was backed by senators Specioza Ayinkamiye and Agnes Mukabaramba, all requesting for the closure of the centre.
Senator Mukabaramba told the House that the situation at the centre was a clear indication that children’s rights were being abused.
Makuza said that the transit facility was established by the law and it cannot just be closed down.
“Somehow errors might have been made but we will have to look into them using appropriate approaches but closing down the centre is not possible at the moment,” he said.
The Senators had also requested that children in the centre be separated depending on their age.Makuza also said.
Mujawamariya told the Senate that every week there is an official from her ministry who visits the centre to ensure that children there are in good condition and register the new children there.
“Before, children used to be enclosed in a very dark hall which was a terrible condition but after we intervened, they now move and play freely in the compound,” said Mujawamariya.