On October 6, Rwanda National Police (RNP) received at least 12 street children including girls, who were mobilized and convinced to abandon the street life.
This was after one of the girls aged nine years, a day before, was approached by the director of Political and Civic Education in RNP, Chief Supt. Rose Muhisoni, in the city centre, sensitized and counseled her to get off the street.
The girl then volunteered and mobilized eleven others, who were picked and taken to Gitagara rehabilitation centre in Bugesera District.
The children, who spoke to the media at the RNP General Headquarters in Kacyiru, before being transported to Gitagara, expressed their disappointment to their parents, whom they say mistreated them while others were fade up with domestic conflicts between their parents.
“My mother would leave me at home alone and she would come back drunk late in the night, beats me for nothing using any object she came across,” Uwamariya (not real names), one of the children aged 9, who hails from Gikondo in Kicukiro district, said.
She recalls one night when her mother came home and hit her with a mingling stick which affected one of her arms. She can hardly use the affected arm to lift anything.
“I was in primary two and performing well in school. I have been on the street for almost a year but life there is not easy; you have to bear days and nights without anything to eat; sometimes you are beaten or sexually abused at night by people you even don’t know. I want to go back to school and I hope this is my turning point,” Uwamariya says.
Uwamariya’s ordeal is shared with Thiery, 14, who has been on the street for more than two years.
To Thiery, together with her young brother, they decided to leave their parents in Gicumbi District after their father subjected them, together with their mother, to beating every night accusing them of either cooking little food or eating and leaving him little.
“He wasn’t contributing anything to the family and yet the food our mother could afford to work hard to get was little for his way of eating, and we could all be answerable when he returned home late at night and drunk,” Thiery, the eldest in the family of seven, said.
The mother also separated from their father.
He also accuses their mother of not being stable to look after them noting that since she left their father, she has been remarried three times.
According to Chief Supt. Muhisoni, getting children off the streets is in line with the implementation of the national policy, which was also discussed early this week during the RNP senior commanders’ meeting, which was also attended and addressed by the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion on the protection of child rights.
“This is an exercise we conduct as police in partnership with other line ministries including the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion,” she said.
She emphasized that most of the children that have been taken off streets blame their parents for their fate.
“Some parents have forgotten or care less about their responsibilities; these children are innocent, they don’t deserve to be on streets but life at home where they face various forms of torture that arise out of their parents’ domestic conflicts, drives them out of their homes,” she noted.
“Abandoning children or subjecting them to any form of torture is a crime. When you decide to give birth, you have accepted all the responsibilities as a mother or father. You have to provide basic necessities like shelter, food, education.”
Child abandonment or neglect, under article 231 of the penal code, is punishable with an imprisonment of up to five years.
CSP Muhisoni appealed to the general public and grassroots leaders in particular to work together to protect and promote the rights of children and identify families that could be facing domestic conflicts to address them before they escalate or turn violent.
Rwanda National Police is currently engaged in awareness campaigns against domestic and gender based violence, and child abuse, through which it also identifies, reconciles and reunites disputed couples.
The establishment of Isange One Stop Centre, which has since been scaled up to 28 other district hospitals across the country, has also been vital in offering free medical, psycho-socio and legal services to victims of GBV and child abuse.
Chief Supt. Muhisoni also appealed to the public to utilize the available police communication channels to report abuses in their localities.
The toll-free lines include 116 for child abuse, 3512 for GBV, 3029 for Isange One Stop Centre and 112 for emergency.