Nation moves to rescue vulnerable children
November 17 is the UN S International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Save the Children UK, one of the many Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) involved in alleviation of child poverty in Rwanda is marking this event with its second Beat Poverty Day .
The campaign, according to Peter Sykes, Save the Children Programme Coordinator, aims at raising the world s attention about the 600 million (including those whose mothers cannot pay hospital bills) children living on less than a dollar a day, calling on people and donors across the world to take action against poverty.
Poverty eradication activists say emphasis will be placed on raising awareness on child poverty and lobbying governments, international organisations and donors to commit to tackling child poverty on a global scale.
This is necessitated by the fact that child poverty hits hard. Adults may overcome poverty but children suffer its consequences like lack of education and poor health for a long time, Sykes said in an interview.
If there is any country in the Sub Saharan Africa where the campaign against child poverty is very timely, it is Rwanda. After the genocide in 1994, millions of children have to face the harsh reality of having to live with chronic shortage of the necessities of life.
While there are no detailed studies on the numbers of orphans and vulnerable children, as the recently adopted National Policy for Orphans and Vulnerable Children concedes, there are indications that the situation is deteriorating.
Most visible are the children living on the streets, whose numbers in the past few years have increased. The HIV infection rates suggest that the number of vulnerable children will increase dramatically in the near future while child-headed households are already a common sight in many communities.
It is generally accepted that the growing numbers of vulnerable children pose a problem to the traditional ways of incorporating them into the extended family structure. Due to the collapse of the extended family support system, children are now more vulnerable to child abuse.
This abuse takes shape in several forms, ranging from sexual abuse to exploitation through child labour. The common factor is that children are deprived of fundamental rights with regard to their protection and their development.
A survey conducted in 2002 by the Johns Hopkins University, in conjunction Mayibobo Club - an association that cares for children - on street children living in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, reveals that they are "a high-risk population", characterised by early sexual experimentation, multiple sex partners, unprotected sex, drug abuse and malnutrition.
The median age of the 238 children was thirteen years; over half of them had lost both parents while 13 per cent of the interviewees had at least one parent. Just over half the boys and over 75 per cent of the girls interviewed reported having had sex. A full 35 per cent of those under the age of ten were discovered to be sexually active.
With the consistent failure of the rural economy, many children have found in Kigali streets a bearable alternative. Examples include children in the Bugesera sub region; the residents are facing starvation [something the authorities deny] due to poor yields as a result of the drought.
The area is best known for having been the site of some of the worst massacres carried out by the Interahamwe, a Hutu militia responsible for most of the 1994 genocide deaths. Consequently, the area is home to a sizeable portion of the country s orphans and child-headed families.
With perpetual hunger and uncertainty having become the middle name of the people in Bugesera, the government s policy of keeping vulnerable children in communities has become the first victim. It is also pertinent to note that the genocide of 1994 created another class of vulnerable children -- Infants with their mothers in prison and children suspected of genocide.
Despite the odds, activists against child poverty like Sykes think there is some break through. He says, And we are committed to working with the Government of Rwanda and other civil society organisations to turn this vision [beating child poverty] into reality. World leaders are beginning to talk seriously about tackling child poverty and the Beat Poverty campaign makes sure that they stick to their words. Words that hopefully lead to action.
Another beacon of hope is the just adopted National Policy for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Human rights activists have described the adoption of the policy as a move in the right direction.
The Government of Rwanda has already made significant steps in the right direction and is leading the region with its recently adopted National Policy for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. We are calling upon donors to support the process of implementing this policy so that the most vulnerable children can realise their basic human rights. At the national level school enrolment has significantly increased, said Sykes.
With over one million orphans and 60 per cent of the total population living under the poverty line, Rwanda is not short of issues. The question is whether they shall be resolved by policies gathering dust in shelves. Already, officials at the Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs, which is responsible for social welfare, concede that children rights will be realised with the implementation of the policy, which depends on the will of the donors.
Government has the political resources, but the money seems to be somewhere else, a source at the Ministry of Social Affairs said on condition of anonymity. Government already allocates 5 per cent of its revenue to cater for the victims of genocide, but this is a drop in the sea.