Parents blame it on poverty
RUBAVU — It’s around 11.30 am and I’m in Serena Kivu Hotel attending the recent Amani retreat aimed at assessing its achievements in the past three years and to set another three-year action plan scheduled to run from 2009-20013.
In attendance are Rwandan parliamentarians and Amani Rwanda chapter members. The master of ceremony announces it is coffee break and we all move to an open space near the lake where the hotel has prepared drinks for the participants.
Having had a heavy breakfast, I feel like not taking anything so I decide to move around admiring the scenic beauty of the Lake Kivu. I stand for a while appreciating the movements and the noise produced by the lapping water waves.
The air at the lake shores is fresh and the sand is clear and warm, a couple of tourists are at the beach sunbathing with their children playing in the hot clear sand. Before my mind is completely swayed away, I get interrupted by two children from the other side of the beach.
Sandrine Uwamahoro 12, and Diane Mukandekezi 9 hardly in their teens who are both struggling to pull 20-liter Jerrycans of water from the lake.
They are visibly unable to do the job. I look around the entire place thinking I would spot an adult to help them. To my surprise, there is no one.
I move towards them and my movement seems to create fear instead as if they suspect punishment. I try to make a friendly connection by extending a greeting.
‘It is 11.50 am, and this time you should both be at school. Why didn’t you go to school today?’.
I politely ask them in Kinyarwanda. ‘We don’t go to school everyday, we sometimes stay away from school to do domestic chores’, the elder sister confidently answers.
They gave the name of their mother as Mutoni, who works in Nyakabungo, a local market about a kilometre from their home in Makoro within Gisenyi town. She is a tomato seller who hardly gets time to stay at home, according to the two.
The children, say she earns a meagre income which is hardly enough to enable them to hire a housemaid. Up to this time, I still don’t believe they can carry the water.
“Is this your first time to carry jerry cans? The answer is a firm ‘no’.
‘We sometimes fetch water when there is a general water crisis or when Electrogaz disconnects our taps because of unpaid water bills’, explains Sandrine the elder of the two.
The surprise is not over yet. I’m eager to see how they will eventually carry the jerry cans. I stand still and remain reluctant to help since I want to prove whether they have done it before like they had told me.
Within no time both had the jerry cans are firmly secured over their backs. According to Sandrine, apart from fetching water, they also cook, wash dishes, clean the house, and sometimes help their mother to sell tomatoes when she is sick or has travelled.
They study three timesin a week, during the particular days that their mother opts not to attend her duties at the market.
The role of parents
All parents whom I talked to blamed child labour on poverty.
“I strongly condemn parents who are still using children to do such heavy work. The main cause of child labour in Rubavu however is poverty. Sometimes, parents are engaged in small income generating activities with a focus on keeping food on the table,” explains Jeanine Mukandayisenga, a resident of Kivumu cell. She is a mother of two sons and three daughters that she claims all attend school.
Mukandayisenga, notes that some households experience food shortages and as such having two meals a day is beyond their reach.
To such parents, she says, hiring housemaids is unheard of, and they end up using children to enable them cope with handling domestic chores. She appeals to parents to respect children’s rights of freedom to education irrespective of sex.
The role of those in authority
According to the Rubavu district officer in charge of good governance and community welfare, Martin Habimana, child labour in Rubavu remains a challenge that needs serious attention.
“We are doing every thing possible to address this issue but sometimes it becomes difficult to deal with it since in many cases it involves parents abusing their own children,” he says. He adds that the district has embarked on sensitisation campaigns to educate parents on the rights of children.
Mechanisms are also in place to ensure that all children attend school as a mandatory requirement, he says.
“We are currently sensitising teachers to always make constant roll calls, identify any missing children and follow them up to establish reasons for their absence from school. In this way, we shall be able to track parents who violate their children’s rights to education,” explains Habimana.