Hundreds of children throughout Rwanda still live on the street, and most of them roam around the Kigali capital city, and in other big cities of the country.
According to information from the national police, these children have no access to shelter, food, health care or education.
In a recent survey, informally conducted by The New Times, a simple tour from Remera, around Kigali commercial centre and then to Nyabugogo, noted over 160 street children, the majority of whom were under 18 years of age.
These children are categorized into two groups: Street-based and home-based. Street-based children are those who spend most days and nights on the street and are essentially without family support.
Home-based children spend much of the day on the street, but have some family support and usually return home at night.
Meanwhile, some of these children are likely to confess that they do not enjoy the life on the street, but are forced there by their parents, who push them to the street to beg.
However, it’s clearly understood that a bigger percentage of these street children come from impoverished families, or single parental homes, with the likelihood of having no access to parental love and care.
On the Novotel Hotel stage, Jean-Marie Ndayisenga tells his story. He is 10 years old, first born in a family of five. He found himself on the street not by choice but fate.
His single mother forced him to go on street and start begging, claiming the family is too big and that she was not in a position to take care of the whole family.
The former regime originally sought to discipline street children by imprisoning them, but changes have seen the current government’s strategy shift from a correctional approach to one of offering help.
Police Spokesman Willy Marcel Higiro last year interviewed and confirmed that a programme to restore street children to rehabilitation centers was initiated.
He said there are five rehabilitations centers in the country: Kitagata (in Bugesera), CISCO, CFJ, and a transition center in Gikondo, among others. He added that the programme is carried out by the national police in collaboration with the Kigali City Council (MVK).
A national police survey of street children indicates that in Gikondo alone, there are 1080 children. They are collected from Kigali city, to be distributed to different centers, explained Higiro.
A few months ago, 208 children below the age of 14 were taken to CISCO and CFJ rehabilitation centers, while 98 above the age of 14 were taken to Gitagata.
“There’re no disciplinary measures imposed on street children but instead helping mechanisms,” says Higiro.
The centers have ordinary schools and vocational training, where children are provided basic education, and taught skills to help them obtain a better future.
“We, the police, only have the mandate of getting children from the street and take them to rehabilitation centers,” says Higiro.
“But MVK is obliged to make follow-ups and see whether they are in favourable conditions.”
Although the government has initiated an important programme of restoring street children to rehabilitation, the phenomenon of street children continues.
Marian Mukandori doesn’t think her children will ever get a chance to have an education.
“I’m a destitute and not capable of meeting their school-dues,” said the single mother of seven as she sits quietly in her mud-covered house in Gikondo. She is not alone.
Hundreds of other mothers face the same dilemma and it is one of the reasons why Rwandan economic development is stalled.
Mukandori absent-mindedly waves away the flies that cluster around her three-year-old son’s face as she tries to imagine her children’s future -- one she hopes will be of unimaginable goodness.
“Although there are so many bad things in the world,” she says.
“Sometimes I think that there are good things reserved for my children.”
One UNICEF official, who requested to remain anonymous, says the Rwandan traditional culture is among the primary factors that hinder child development. As a result, many have resorted to the street as the last option, the source added.
Rwanda’s traditional culture gives no value to children, especially the girl child, and many have been denied chance to education, and right to legacy, says the source.
Some of these children have been victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide or are AIDS orphans, while others desert their homes due to abuse.
Parents, care-takers and other close relatives subject children to abuse that also goes unreported. These minors are sometimes defiled, battered, or denied the basic necessities of life such as food clothes, education, shelter and medicine.
“I only wish my parents would give me love and care,” said street child Samuel Sibomana, his eyes as expressive as his words.
“Then I would be the happiest person on Earth.”