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Perhaps the most devastating consequence of the genocide and war in Rwanda is the hundreds of thousands of children who have been orphaned or otherwise left without parental care since 1994. During the genocide and afterwards in refugee or displaced person camps, these children were left to cope with atrocities taking place around them and to fight for their own survival. Today, they struggle to rebuild their lives with little help in a society that has been completely devastated. With many living in poverty, they confront the daily challenges of feeding, sheltering, and clothing themselves; trying to attend school; or trying to earn a living. In the meantime, thousands of vulnerable children are exploited for their labor and property and denied the right to education.

In 1992, the UNICEF Situation Analysis for Rwanda found that it was no longer possible to expect extended families to provide the traditional safety net for orphaned children.232 Since then, the crisis of children without parents has surpassed the worst predictions. There are no longer enough adults to act as parents. A teacher in Kibungo estimated that, out of sixty university-educated people from his home commune in 1994, only ten are still working. "The rest are dead, in prison, or never came back from the refugee camps."233

While one cannot help feeling pity for the difficult economic and social situation of many children on Rwanda's hills, it is easy for many to accept that children's rights are simply not a priority given all the other seemingly insurmountable problems Rwandans face. Complacency with the status quo, increasingly prevalent, is preventing Rwanda from taking action to protect their rights.

Children on Their Own during the Emergency: 1994 - 1997
The International Committee of the Red Cross registered more than 120,000 unaccompanied children in the aftermath of the genocide through 1996, but some observers, including Rwandan government sources, think as many as 400,000 children were unaccompanied at one point or another.234 Some had been separated or orphaned during the genocide, others during flight from Rwanda. As armed conflict and displacement continued over the next three years, increasing numbers of children were separated from their families. A surge of children, many of whom were wounded, came into one center in Butare after RPA troops massacred thousands of internally displaced persons at a camp in Kibeho in 1995.235 Thousands more were separated when returning from refugee camps to Rwanda: during a forced repatriation of Rwandan refugees from Bukavu in August 1995 and December 1996, massive repatriations from Burundi in July 1996, forcible dispersal of camps at Uvira, Bukavu, and Goma in October - November 1996, and the forcible closure of refugee camps in Tanzania in December 1996.236 The International Committee of the Red Cross registered more than 28,000 unaccompanied children during the mass repatriations in November 1996 alone.237 Relief workers also found an unprecedented problem of so-called unaccompanied mothers-unaccompanied girls who gave birth in refugee camps, in some cases after having been raped.238

As early as August 1994, the new Rwandan government and humanitarian agencies recognized that the unaccompanied children would be better off with families than in centers or orphanages. Official policy for dealing with the children, consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, emphasized tracing, reunification, and placement with foster families.239 This was formalized in 1995 when the government established a policy of "one child, one family," aiming to return as many children as possible to their families and to place the rest in foster care.

Nevertheless, tens of thousands of children went to orphanages or centers for unaccompanied children-sometimes because they had no place else to go. In other cases desperate parents even sent their children to centers believing they would be more likely to receive needed food, medical care, and education than at home. A Butare social worker told Human Rights Watch researchers of a fellow social worker who had sent her own two children to a center "since there was no way they could get such care from her family."240

Conditions in the children's centers varied widely. Some centers were overcrowded, housing up to twice their capacity, poorly regulated, and lacking in trained staff. One aid worker said, for example, that children could be found who were left naked in centers so that employees would not have to wash their clothes.241 Conflicts arose between Tutsi children who had been at one Butare center since 1994 and Hutu children who arrived later.242 In centers, experts said that the children sometimes felt completely separate from society and had difficulty fitting back in upon reintegration with families.243 At the same time, some aid workers said they feared making centers too comfortable as children living in "nicer" centers were often more reluctant to go home when their families were located. And some centers reportedly delayed reunifying children with their families for fear that their funding would cease.244

All told, aid agencies were able to place 62,569 out of 122,664 registered unaccompanied children in families.245 Tracing children's families proved extremely difficult, particularly for the severely traumatized or very young children who could not remember their names or where they were from. Insecurity also hampered tracing efforts.246 Two young girls returned to Rwanda on their own after their mother was killed in Congo and wandered aimlessly around southwestern Rwanda, eventually to wind up on the streets in Butare town. There, in 2000, they told a social worker they thought they might be from Gikongoro province. The social worker told Human Rights Watch she wanted to begin tracing efforts but lacked the means. In any case, she said, chances were slim for a successful reunification with so little information after so much time had passed.247 Social workers and aid workers underscored that even children reunified with their own parents often faced enormous difficulties on the hills, largely due to poverty.

Countless thousands of children who never even entered any formal placement have been absorbed into families not their own, in what is referred to as spontaneous fostering. The case of Jacques G., as related in 1996 by a man who helped him, was typical.

On July 5, 1994, during the war, at the time of the chaos, on a hill in the commune of Gishamvu, around about 8 p.m., a woman came very quietly and deposited a young boy of about six years old next to us. She took advantage of the calm that reigned, scared of being discovered by the RPA soldier who, in fact, could have killed us. The child was covered in a very old jacket. No one paid any attention to him, so it was only the next day that we realized the child had been thrown out!

It was the morning of July 6 when we decided to get him back to give him something to drink and eat with our own [children]. When we wanted to know where his mother was, the child said he didn't know. As for his identity, he didn't know anything. Apparently, it had been a long time since he had eaten. We then took him around with us until, two weeks later, one of the families agreed to adopt him.... The head of the family nicknamed Balthazar, aged over fifty-five, did not have any more little children in his house.... This child was nicknamed "mayibobo," boy or child of the street.248

Never formally adopted, the child became the responsibility of Balthazar and later, after Balthazar was arrested, of Balthazar's wife, for whom the boy worked. The family did not receive assistance from the government or from NGOs working with unaccompanied children.

Adults came forward to claim children, sometimes out of pity, sometimes out of self-interest. Some families were eager to receive material assistance for taking a child in or simply to have an extra pair of hands in the household. One tracing coordinator remarked, "After Kibeho, families were actually looking for children to foster."249 Another aid worker who worked with young genocide survivors who had fled to Burundi commented, "Families took children without any formalities. It was like a supermarket."250

Children absorbed into families-with extended family members, neighbors, or total strangers-can be invisible, assumed to be natural children or domestic workers.251 Agencies involved in family reunification acknowledged that they lacked the resources to follow up with the children they had placed-a nearly impossible task given the sheer number of children involved, spread out around the refugee camps and inside Rwanda. Save the Children Federation - USA attempted to follow up with girls they had formally reunified with "uncles," who were not in fact close relatives, in twenty sectors where the NGO worked, an effort they acknowledged was strictly limited in time and geographic scope.252 Few initiatives exist to monitor the situation of children taken in without formal intervention of an agency. As discussed in detail below, many continue to be subject to abuse and exploitation. Some preferred the independence of life on city streets, despite the risks they face there.

In addition, thousands of children were evacuated to third countries during the genocide. Ironically, although the authorities of the genocidal government directed and encouraged the slaughter of children, they also permitted thousands of children to be evacuated to safety on several occasions, often in an effort to impress the international community. Officials at the interim Ministry of Defense, for example, permitted the Swiss humanitarian organization Terre des Hommes to evacuate 700 orphans-many of them Tutsi.253 Those who organized the evacuations devoted their energies to the immediate task of saving the lives of the children and, not surprisingly, rarely provided for their eventual return to Rwanda. When it was later possible for the children to go back to Rwanda, many of them and many host families resisted any such move. Some of those who did return had difficulty readjusting to life in Rwanda.254 The Rwandan government continues to demand the return of children who were evacuated to Europe, some of whom have been adopted by European families and have lived for years in Europe. High-level officials, including President Kagame, have insisted particularly on the return of forty-one children who were adopted in Italy in 2000 without the consent of family members or of the Rwandan government.255

At least 30,000 Rwandan refugee children were absorbed into local families in conflict-ridden eastern Congo.0 Save the Children - UK identified approximately 1,500 such children in 2001, most of whom fled the insecurity in northwestern Rwanda in 1997 and 1998. Many of these children have been exploited by their host families, the girls are extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse, and all are victims of ongoing insecurity in eastern Congo. More than 60 percent of them said they would prefer to be repatriated to Rwanda.1

Still Alone: Children Today

Who They Are
Some 400,000-more than 10 percent of Rwanda's children-are estimated to be orphans today.2 Most were orphaned during the genocide or the war, but growing numbers were orphaned by HIV/AIDS, itself sometimes the result of rapes committed during the genocide. Some of these children live with foster families, others have formed child-headed households, and many eventually migrate towards city streets in an attempt to fend for themselves. Regardless of what led them to their present situation, they all have one thing in common: a lack of protection.3

Genocide survivors who were orphaned in 1994 are the most visible of these groups. They are among the most vulnerable children in the world: many witnessed unspeakable atrocities including the murder of family members and some narrowly escaped death themselves, leaving them deeply traumatized. Many of those who survived now live in misery, often lacking the means for education and basic health care.4 Prominent survivors have denounced the government for allowing these children to live in such misery, particularly since it has represented itself as a government of victims in order to attract substantial foreign assistance.5

What sets these children and young people apart is their status as victims of genocide; they survived a systematic government campaign to eliminate them as an ethnic group. Aside from that, they are not alone in their predicament. Tens of thousands of other children also lost one or both parents in massacres or armed conflict and many more were separated from their parents during flight, as discussed above. While most have been integrated into family structures, not all are with their own nuclear families. All are extremely vulnerable to exploitation for their labor and property and denial of their right to education, as will be documented below.

The AIDS epidemic-greatly accelerated by sexual violence during the genocide and in the refugee camps, as well as by sexual exploitation of female-headed households around the country-is another leading cause of parents' deaths.6 In 2000, UNAIDS estimated that 270,000 children in Rwanda had lost their mother or both parents to HIV/AIDS before they turned fifteen.7 Their ranks will continue to swell in the coming years. An estimated 400,000 Rwandans are infected with the virus-including approximately 30 percent of pregnant women in Kigali and nearly 10 percent of pregnant women in rural areas.8 Children whose parents died of HIV/AIDS often suffer a stigma of being "contaminated" by the virus regardless of whether they are infected themselves. As a result, they may be ostracized from the community and less likely to be taken in by relatives or foster parents. They also suffer not only the loss of their parents, but also exploitation for their property and labor and denial of the right to education.9

In addition, untold numbers whose parents are accused of genocide suffer in silence. Not only are they lacking the support and care of a parent, most often fathers, but also the incarcerated parents are dependent on them for survival. Their mothers, if alive, struggle to maintain the household and care for the children, cultivate the fields and sell crops at market, in addition to making frequent journeys to prison to bring food. These families typically rely on their children's labor for survival, and many do not even dream of finding means to send them to school.

In many communities, these children suffer a stigma of association with a family member reputed to be guilty of genocide. Most of their detained parents have never been tried for their alleged crimes.10 An elderly woman explained how adults, referring to children on their own, had said, "But you can see it in their eyes that their parents were killers," and, "Those children will grow up to be killers."11 Another woman who lives in Kigali Rural explained that genocide survivors in her district harass those known to have fathers in prison, chanting "You are going to kill us, just like your father did."12 A social worker in Butare attempted to arrange for street children to visit their fathers in prison. Authorities rebuffed his efforts, asking why he, a Tutsi, wanted to help Interahamwe.13 Another social worker in Butare told a Human Rights Watch researcher that she has worked with children who refused to visit their parents in prison because of the related stigma. "You shouldn't punish the child for acts of the father," she sighed. "But society has not been able to make this distinction in practice."14

A Kigali social worker said that prisoners' children often go to great lengths to disassociate themselves from their jailed parents, to become invisible. She gave a typical example based on her experience. Two boys staying in the Kigali center where she worked switched identities: each kept his own name but assumed the other's address. One became very angry when the social worker told him that she had managed to trace his family. He threw a temper tantrum in her office and said he refused to go home. He did not want to return to his home that bore the stigma of those accused of genocide.15

Government policy does not deem prisoners' children (with the exception of very young children incarcerated with their nursing mothers) to be "children in exceptionally difficult circumstances."16 Consequently, they are not necessarily entitled to benefits or interventions that the government provides for other vulnerable children. There has been no systematic effort to identify these children or reach out to them. Assistance programs typically aim to help genocide survivors or vulnerable children generally, but not specifically children of prisoners. Charles K., whose mother struggled to keep him in school, complained that he was left out when his Kigali school distributed aid destined for vulnerable children. He raised his hand when his teacher asked all children without fathers to identify themselves, but the teacher told him to put it back down. His mother told Human Rights Watch that she was surprised anyone at school even knew her husband was in prison, since she had advised the boy not to tell anyone. "He feels the discrimination," she sighed.17

Who Cares for Them
Due to aggressive implementation of the "one child, one family" policy, relatively few orphans or separated children remain in centers. There are now twenty-six centers for unaccompanied children in Rwanda, housing fewer than five thousand children-fewer than before the genocide.18 Those separated in 1994 who are still in the centers are generally considered the most difficult to integrate into families. One social worker who works at a residential center for approximately one hundred unaccompanied children told Human Rights Watch that those adolescents who had not been successfully reunified with families since 1994 had become extremely independent and difficult to discipline, diminishing prospects that they could be integrated into families in the future.19 However, she and others stressed that a disproportionate number of children in centers for the unaccompanied are prisoners' children and those whose parents died of AIDS, the least wanted by society. A majority of those newly admitted to centers were orphaned by AIDS.

Pursuant to the policy of one child, one family, government officials discourage international nongovernmental organizations from providing assistance for centers for unaccompanied children. "It is not human for so many children to be in centers," explained the representative of the Ministry of Local Government in Ruhengeri.20 One European aid worker questioned the wisdom of this since most of those remaining in centers have nowhere else to go. He told a Human Rights Watch researcher that he has sensed what he thought to be a deliberate government effort to divert aid to those children, often Tutsi, it considers most deserving-and away from the two marginalized groups making up the population of centers for unaccompanied children today.21

The majority of children who were orphaned or unaccompanied during the emergency are now living in family situations as opposed to in centers for unaccompanied children. UNICEF reported in 2001 that some 1,200 children were placed in foster care through organized programs, while more than 100,000 had been spontaneously fostered inside Rwanda by extended family members, family friends or neighbors, or strangers.22 Most of these host families have welcomed needy children, often unrelated, into their homes with the best interests of the child in mind. Although most children are in fact better off with families, many host families, themselves in economic difficulty, also find it advantageous to take a child in. Ironically, some children find family members more exploitative than strangers who take them in out of pity.

Although many of these children have extended family members nearby, they feel isolated, exploited and ignored.  Rwandans frequently state that before the war, it was in their culture to care for vulnerable children. But children [now] tell stories of uncles stealing their land, aunts who turn a cold shoulder, and cousins who ask for payment in return for help.23

In some cases, impoverished parents have accepted foster children on the expectation that they will benefit materially for doing so, such as assistance from nongovernmental organizations. The following sections document how some foster children have been victims of abuse and exploitation at the hands of their caregivers. Some consider the foster child as interchangeable with a free, live-in domestic servant. Due to limited resources, the foster children are often last in line to eat, get medical care, or be sent to school. And many foster families have exploited children for their property. The Rwanda News Agency reported in 2001 that some foster families are exhibiting "unbearable depths of exploitation, discrimination, torture and tormenting acts" against children in their care.24 Of those reunified, many later moved to live with other guardians or in households headed by children in an effort to escape the abuse and exploitation they suffered at the hands of their caregivers. In the absence of government intervention to prevent these forms of exploitation, many foster children are growing up without education, deprived of their property, and with a sense that they are second-class citizens, as described in detail below.

This is why it is so important to monitor children's protection even after they have been placed with families. Béatrice M., born in Burundi where her family lived in exile, came to Rwanda in 1995 at the age of fifteen. Along with her siblings, she went to stay with a paternal uncle in Kibungo. The following year, a maternal uncle invited Béatrice M. to live with him in Kigali Rural and offered to pay her secondary school tuition. She quickly came to consider him her husband though, as she said, "it was more of a concubinage." She bore him two children and dropped out of school to care for them. After three years, in December 1999, he threw her and her children out of the house to marry another woman. Béatrice M. went to court to force him to accept paternity of the children and pay child support.25

In addition, foster children are not consistently registered on their caregivers' identification cards or in their own parents' names, and some are not registered at all. Foster parents do not always tell the child that he or she comes from another family. In some cases, this helps make the child feel part of the host family. But it can also make it difficult for the child to prove his or her rights to family property.26

In the face of exploitation in foster families, large numbers of siblings or unrelated children have preferred to stay together and fend for themselves. UNICEF estimated that some 65,000 families, more than 300,000 children, lived in child-headed households in 1998.27 U.S. government figures indicate that as many as 85,000 households are headed by children.28 A 2001 study conducted by the Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD) estimated that even more, as many as 13 percent of all households or 227,500 families nationwide, are headed by children.29 The genocide, later massacres, imprisonment, and AIDS all contribute to the scale of this problem. Those orphaned by AIDS, marginalized by their extended families, are more likely than other orphans to live without adults.30

Children in child-headed households live a precarious existence. Ninety-five percent have no access to education or healthcare and most live under plastic sheeting or in substandard housing.31 More than 60 percent live solely off agriculture, three quarters of whom own less than one hectare of land and one quarter of whom are landless. Average revenue per family per month rarely exceeds 2,500 Rwandan francs (U.S. $5) per month.32 They are at the mercy of neighbors, relatives, and local officials when they need assistance or protection, yet may be marginalized and ignored, in part due to conflicts over management of assets left by their own parents.33 UNICEF has identified a "double-edged nature of child-headed households' desire for self-sufficiency.... Arguably, children's contribution to the community through their labor may in some cases be greater than the community contribution to them."34

Within child-headed households, older children may essentially give up their own childhood to act as parents for the younger ones. Yet the younger ones still lack parental care and protection. "We often get sick. We stay in the home until we are better-treatment must be paid for and we have no money," explained a thirteen-year-old girl from Byumba, living in a makeshift shelter made of plastic sheeting with four younger children. "It is too big a burden for me, though, and I am tired. I feel sick sometimes, with a terrible headache that makes me dizzy. Maybe these children I am looking after might become intelligent in school, but I don't think of myself becoming anything. In fact, I don't like to think about the future."35

Households headed by girls-as many as three-quarters of those without adults-are most at risk. A Kigali-based social worker told Human Rights Watch that older sisters are frequently coerced into trading sex for their younger brothers' school fees.36 One study in 1997 found that 80 percent of girl heads of households had been sexually abused or fended off sexual abuse. A 2001 study found that sex played such a significant role in children's self-support mechanisms that it is an "integrated and almost tolerated part of the rural society."37 Sexual exploitation of these girls is rarely prosecuted. "They are condemned to silence because no one would defend them-on the contrary, they would endure further ostracism from the community."38 If a girl head of household becomes pregnant, it is unlikely that the father will agree to take care of her younger siblings. Consequently, she is faced with an impossible choice upon giving birth: leave the children she is looking after and try to marry the baby's father, take care of the newborn along with her other brothers and sisters, or abandon the child after birth.39

National and provincial authorities often refer to the problem of vulnerable child-headed households as too spread out, too difficult to deal with, and "one more burden that society cannot handle."40 Some of these children have gotten together and formed an association to protect their interests, complaining that local authorities fail to include them in assistance programs such as housing or food distributions.41 International NGOs including World Vision and the International Rescue Committee have attempted to reach child-headed households in their assistance and development programs. But their efforts are not sufficient.

The Rwandan government has done little to effectively provide assistance or protection for these children in practice:

The provision of support and services to vulnerable children is often limited to a macro-level where debate on children's rights and protection issues is equated with developing child centered policies based on international agreements such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, policy driven initiatives are unlikely to succeed in provision of adequate care for children without the support of the community at the grassroots level.42

At local levels, communities have not proved up to the task. On one level, the extreme poverty in which many Rwandan families live precludes adults from expending resources other than on their own families' survival. On another, a climate of distrust and suspicion in some communities-made up, according to one group of foster parents interviewed by UNICEF, of "genocide survivors, the relatives of genocide victims, and the relatives of people in prison accused of genocidal acts"-has eroded solidarity among neighbors. Another respondent said that, if an adult goes out of her way to help a marginalized child, her neighbors might begin to ask why.43

Local government officials have failed to set an example or to take measures to ensure that private citizens respect these children's rights. One Kigali Rural women blamed widespread complacency with abuses of children's rights on the fact that officials rarely discussed the concerns of vulnerable children in public meetings. She said that members of her community had taken their silence as a cue that the officials had come to accept the children's plight, so they followed suit.44

Domestic Labor Exploitation
The most common-and the most hidden-form of child exploitation is domestic labor. Many Rwandans, including members of the educated urban elite, employ child domestic workers. Some employers treat them badly without giving it much thought. The children can be on call up to twenty-four hours a day for little if any compensation. Their employers can forbid them from attending school, beat them for the slightest error, and treat them as less than human. The chief complaint of most child domestic servants interviewed by Human Rights Watch researchers is that they are not paid for their labor. Louise N. explained:

I looked for work as a domestic. I worked for three months and they didn't pay me, so I left and went to the street. They never gave me meat or french fries, even though I cooked these things for the rest of the family. I only ate sweet potatoes. Their children slept on a mattress, but I slept on the ground.45

Girls are extremely vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse by their employers or visitors to the house where they work. Yet few bother to complain, as many are ignorant of their rights and do not see any alternative. The views of children living in centers for unaccompanied children or in child-headed households interviewed for a UNICEF study are telling. Most said they did not believe that sexual abuse bothers a domestic servant because, as one said, "she has other responsibilities and is not preoccupied by it."46

As discussed above, foster families often agree to take children in on the expectation that they are getting a live-in domestic worker. Alphonse K. came to Kigali during the genocide when he was ten years old. Initially, he stayed at a center for unaccompanied children at Kigali's St. Paul church. An RPA soldier took Alphonse K. from the church to stay with his family and work as a domestic servant. "Maybe he took pity on me." Why had the soldier had taken him in? "I was in good health, and many of the other children at St. Paul had been injured."47

Children themselves even negotiate such arrangements, approaching an adult and proposing to provide domestic labor in exchange for a place to sleep and perhaps some food or maybe even a small salary. Fifteen-year-old Jean Damascène B., for example, told Human Rights Watch he migrated to the streets of Kigali after his parents were killed by RPA soldiers during the insurgency in the northwest. After several months on the streets, he encountered a friend of his parents, whom he convinced to take him in in exchange for his domestic labor. But he was still obliged to perform odd jobs on the streets in order to buy food to eat.48

There are no remedies available for children exploited as domestic servants when their rights are violated, in contravention of Rwanda's obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and relevant international labor conventions.49 Enforcement of existing legislation protecting children from sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation is lacking where child domestics are concerned. Despite occasional central government pronouncements to this effect, few concrete initiatives exist to protect children from these harmful practices.

Child domestic labor can lead to grave abuses of children's rights in many countries all over the world. But the problem is much worse in Rwanda due to the unprecedented number of children lacking parental care and their extreme desperation. Children, their employers, and government officials may truly believe that the children are better off as domestic servants, lucky at least to have a place to sleep. For many, there is, in fact, no alternative.

Denial of the Right to Education
UNICEF estimated that 67 percent of primary school-age boys and 68 percent of girls were enrolled in school in 2001.50 However, these figures might give a deceptively favorable image of the situation. The quality of primary education is often poor, as some 54 percent of teachers lack basic qualifications.51 Some of those enrolled were likely to be expelled for failure to pay school fees, generally less than U.S. $5 per year in rural areas. Others, including disproportionate numbers of girls, will fail their courses due to excessive demands on their time outside of school. The primary school completion rate for 1997-1998 was only 23 percent.52 Only some 6 percent of Rwandan children enroll in secondary school.53

Societal Exploitation
Rural families, depending on children for their labor, can rarely afford to send all of their children to school, and foster children are generally last in line. The case of Bosco R., a fifteen-year-old orphan from Gitarama, was typical. His maternal uncle agreed to take him in after his father died, but clearly expected him to earn his keep. The uncle also took possession of Bosco R.'s field. Bosco R. said he wanted desperately to study, but his uncle refused to allow this, saying that schooling would benefit only Bosco R. and would bring nothing for him. Bosco R. told a Human Rights Watch researcher that his uncle made him work in the fields because, he told Bosco, "your schooling does not matter to me." So Bosco R. said he preferred to go to Kigali and try to fend for himself on the streets.54

Children interviewed for a UNICEF study said that, of all categories of children in difficult circumstances, child-headed households encounter the most difficulties in exercising the right to education. Further analysis of their responses showed, however, that that they did not consider denial of education to be a problem for those with a father in prison and a mother with AIDS. These children, they said, were "beyond education" with too many problems and simply nothing to hope for.55 As mentioned above, child heads of household find it extremely difficult to find money for younger siblings' school fees, and older siblings rarely even entertain the thought of studying themselves. The director of a primary school in Nyakizu, Butare said that none of his current students was cared for by older siblings who themselves were still in school.56 The ACORD study echoed that those in child headed households "have few ambitions.... Crushed by poverty, [they] feel inferior to their contemporaries who live with their families, especially those who are at school."57

Rosette M. struggles to care for her younger brothers and sisters in a small makeshift shelter in Kinigi, Ruhengeri. Their parents were killed during the insurgency. Seven paternal uncles live in the same village, one of whom is a local official, but they provide little assistance for her. She said they have trouble supporting their own families, so she does not expect them to help her. Rosette M., aged fifteen years old, told Human Rights Watch researchers that she tried to scrape money together for some of her younger siblings to study, but that she did not expect to study herself. When asked why she did not receive government assistance as an orphan, she replied that she thought that only genocide orphans were entitled to this. Local authorities on whom she depended for protection did not inform her that a government fund existed to subsidize her or her siblings' schooling.58

Money is a major obstacle to fulfillment of the right to education, which is why the Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for all states to provide free primary education for all children.59 Primary school in rural areas of Rwanda costs approximately 500 Rwandan francs, just over U.S. $1, per trimester, or 1,500 Rwandan francs per year. Some schools charge less, 300 Rwandan francs, or waive tuition for orphans. Children at both public and private schools must also purchase uniforms, notebooks, and pens, and families may be asked to contribute for other miscellaneous costs such as repairs to the schoolhouse or for teachers' expenses. Many families who rely on subsistence agriculture to survive find it extremely difficult to afford these expenses. "We get used to holding on," said Aloysie R., an eleven-year-old student in Butare. She explained that her family sometimes skipped supper at night in order to afford her school tuition of 900 Rwandan francs per year.60

After completing the sixth year of primary school, students take a national exam. Those who pass may enroll in secondary school if they can afford the tuition. Those with the highest marks on the exam are admitted to public schools, where tuition is approximately 30,000 Rwandan francs per year. The rest scramble to find places in less competitive private schools, where tuition can be 90,000 Rwandan francs or more. Children typically attend secondary schools at some distance from their homes and live in dormitories, for which they need to pay room and board as well as provide a mattress and other supplies. They must also buy bus tickets to travel to school and home. All told, an average student in a private secondary school may spend upwards of U.S. $300 per year-far beyond the reach of families that struggle even to pay primary school tuition.

Arbitrary Denial of Government Assistance
Straton Nsanzabaganwa, director of social planning and protection of vulnerable groups in the Ministry of Local Administration and Social Affairs explained that the Rwandan government provides assistance for orphans and other indigent secondary school students through two main vehicles. No formal assistance is available for primary school tuition. A fund administered by the Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs provides partial educational assistance for orphans and other indigent children to attend secondary school. Pursuant to a government policy of decentralization, the Ministry of Local Government aims to delegate administration of this fund to authorities at the province level in 2002 and then to Rwanda's 106 districts in 2003. In addition, the Fond pour l'assistance des rescapés du génocide (FARG, Fund for Assistance of Genocide Survivors) is a quasi-governmental agency that provides assistance for the basic needs of genocide survivors, including full school fees.61 In addition to financing from the government, the survivors' fund also receives money from international donors. This fund is not related to compensation relatives of those slaughtered during the genocide may receive as civil parties in criminal trials. In 2000-01, the Ministry of Local Government spent 802 million Rwandan francs, just under U.S. $2 million, on school fees through the government fund. The survivors' fund, on the other hand, Nsanzabaganwa said, had "billions" of Rwandan francs for a smaller pool of children. Nevertheless, demand for both funds exceeds the supply.

Another problem is that the government fund pays only a fraction of a child's secondary school fees. The government fund will pay a maximum of 20,000 Rwandan francs per year for public schools and 30,000 per year for private schools. The ceiling for each secondary student supported by the survivors' fund is three times higher, up to 90,000 Rwandan francs per year. He explained that the government made a political decision to fund genocide survivors at a higher level.62

Although Hutu may qualify as survivors (defined as those who were sought after during the genocide, who lost a family member, or whose property was destroyed), the survivors' fund supports mainly Tutsi. Many Hutu, particularly in the northwest, perceive this as discriminatory.63 Even genocide survivors have complained that this policy is unfair and reminds them of discrimination against Tutsi before the genocide. In June 2000, a seventeen-year-old girl named Josephine O., whose father was assassinated during the genocide, became so depressed she couldn't study. Josephine O. told her mother that she felt ashamed that the survivors' fund paid for her even though her family had means, while another girl her age whose parents were killed during the insurgency in Ruhengeri had to work and could not afford to study. She threatened to drop out, but later agreed to complete her degree on the condition that her mother pay for the other to study.64

In practice, both funds fall short of the needs they seek to fulfill. Due to budget shortfalls, the Ministry of Local Government has been perpetually late in dispersing funds to schools and, in the end, has paid as little as one third of what it has agreed to. In November 2000, the government fund had paid for only a handful of the children named on pages and pages of the handwritten lists of indigent children in Ruhengeri that a Human Rights Watch researcher saw.65 During the 2000-2001 school year, financial difficulties with the survivors' fund also led to late and partial payments to schools. Private schools, which must pay their teachers without government subsidies, are the hardest hit by these shortfalls and struggle to keep their doors open, but all suffer. When boarding schools lack cash, they cannot provide children with food and clean water. At a private school in Rusumo, for example, out of 230 total students last year, 109 were supposed to be supported by the government fund and 101 by the survivors' fund, leaving only twenty who paid their own tuition. Both funds were at least a year behind in their disbursements when Human Rights Watch researchers visited the school in October 2000.66 Half of the 732 students at one school in Ruhengeri were supposed to be supported by one of the funds. The survivors' fund was nearly a year behind in payments and the government fund owed two years of arrears when Human Rights Watch visited the school in December 2000.67

At various points, schools have sent children on both lists home because the funds failed to disperse payment for their tuition. The Ministry of Education issued orders forbidding schools from sending students on the lists home if the funds have not paid their fees, but school principals say they see no alternative if there is no food for the children to eat.68 Human Rights Watch researchers saw a notice posted at one school on November 7, 2000 announcing that any child who had not paid tuition could no longer attend classes, even if one of the funds was supposed to pay for him or her. The caregiver of three children sent home that day told the researchers that there was nothing she could do-she was caring for a house full of children and simply did not have any money to pay the school.69 Sixteen-year-old Paula I. of Nyanza told a Human Rights Watch researcher that she gets angry and frustrated about this issue. She was repeatedly sent home from school because the government fund was late with payments. The teacher allowed Paula I. to attend classes but, whenever the administration checked to see who had paid, she was thrown out. The school allowed her to take exams for the first two trimesters, but withheld her report card pending payment of her tuition. Near the end of the year, the principal sent her and two other students away for non-payment, and she was not able to complete the school year.70 In other cases, schools with numerous applicants for limited places have refused to enroll children dependent on one of the funds, admitting instead those who can pay their own tuition.71 Speaking of cases when schools have to send children away because the funds to not pay their fees, a clergyman who supervises schools in Kibungo said, "sometimes, when we have to send a child away, we send them to the ministry or to the [office of the survivors' fund] as a reminder."72

Survivors have expressed outrage that their fund has failed to meet their education needs. A frail widow in Kibungo lamented that her son was compelled to drop out of school two years before graduation because assistance from the fund paid only for tuition but not room and board.73 A former member of parliament told a Human Rights Watch researcher that a group of survivor youths had been preparing a public demonstration to draw attention to this issue in mid-2001, but that government officials persuaded them to cancel the scheduled event.74

Another problem is that many children who appear to meet the criteria for assistance from the government fund often find themselves excluded from the benefits they are supposed to receive. Local officials prepare lists of children whom they deem qualified for the fund including orphans (children who have lost one parent) or indigent children.75 Yet Human Rights Watch received dozens of reports of children who had been arbitrarily left off the lists. Patricie U., a seventeen-year-old orphan in Kigali, said that local authorities told her only "genocide orphans" qualified for this assistance. With no way to know that this was an erroneous statement of government policy, she went to work as an unpaid domestic servant instead of continuing her studies. She wore an out of date school uniform when she met with Human Rights Watch. She explained that, since she was not paid for her labor, she couldn't afford to buy any clothes. The old uniform was a hand-me-down from a friend who attended school and had bought a new one.76 Claire N., an orphan from Gitarama, wanted to be "a nurse, no, a doctor." Instead, she went to perform unpaid domestic labor for an unrelated "uncle" who abused her after local authorities turned her down for the government fund as well.77

It can be a cumbersome process for children to be placed on the list. Legal professionals who assist children to obtain education benefits told Human Rights Watch researchers that the process can be so slow that it is often not useful.78 Jean Paul L., who was responsible for his younger sister's care, did not bother trying:

I thought about getting the document to prove we are orphans. But that would cost me money, too. I would have to go to [the commune in Kigali] where we were born, which would cost 600 Rwandan francs, and to [the commune in Kigali Rural] where we live now. If I don't have 400 Rwandan francs for [my sister's] school fees, how can I get 1,000 Rwandan francs for transport? Plus, it would take me two or three months to get all the documents, and I might have to get it again after a while.... I didn't study. She can't study. Do you see how much that makes us suffer?79

Sixteen-year-old Frank K., whose father died and whose mother is handicapped, said he had approached authorities in Kigali city to request assistance. They told him to obtain proof of his father's death from local authorities and come back, which he did, only to be told that the list for the government fund was already full.80

For children to be registered on the government fund lists as orphans or indigent, they must have proof of their parents' death or of their poverty. Local officials generally issue the necessary documents for a nominal fee, generally fifty Rwandan francs but sometimes ask a higher bribe, an ironic demand given that the papers are to establish lack of means.81 Local authorities have even charged child-headed households to be [placed] on lists of beneficiaries. "The price is negotiable" (ça se négocie), remarked one resident of Gisenyi who has seen authorities charge up to 600 Rwandan francs for a certificate. "If you are really poor, you cannot get one."82 Residents of one commune in Byumba said their neighbors had become angry when the child of a wealthy genocide survivor-who did not need assistance and, in any case, could have been paid for by the survivors' fund-was placed on the government fund list while other orphans and needy children were left off.83

At times, government officials have simply refused to provide the required documentation. Women's rights advocates in Kigali say that women whose husbands who died in refugee camps in Tanzania or Congo or during the insurgency in particular have encountered difficulties in obtaining death certificates. As a result, these women are less likely to receive government benefits to pay for their children's studies.84 The widow of a former burgomaster in Gisenyi, whose husband was reportedly killed by RPA troops in November 1997, was denied a death certificate by the new burgomaster. Communal authorities detained two other widows in Gisenyi in the local lockups in 1999 and 2000 when they came to request death certificates. One, who left small children at home, was reportedly accused of falsifying the application.85

Four widows in Bulinga, Gitarama tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get death certificates for husbands who had been summarily executed in 1998 by RPA forces after they had been freed from the local lockup during an attack by armed combatants. The widows even raised the issue in a public meeting with Aloyisea Inyumba, then executive director of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission in 1999. One told a Human Rights Watch researcher that officials at the commune have privately acknowledged how the men died yet refused to sign the death certificates, apparently in part because they fear that the killers-who reportedly acted under the order of the then-burgomaster-could be prosecuted. Another attempted to obtain a court order forcing the commune to issue the death certificate, but said the tribunal sent her back to the commune empty-handed. After receiving repeated threats, the widows gave up their crusade to obtain assistance from the government fund and the social security benefits to which they were entitled through their husbands' salaries. They decided to use their energy to find other ways to pay their children's school fees.86 Attorneys working in family law say that families would have to wait seven to ten years for the courts to issue death certificates for their missing husbands, much too late, much too long to provide assistance for their children to study.87

Those who succeed in obtaining the necessary documents from local authorities may still be arbitrarily denied government benefits such as social security or pensions. Women's rights advocates who have represented widows seeking their social security benefits lament that the government Social Security office (Caisse Sociale) shelved their clients' claims indefinitely (classés sans suite), effectively refusing to pay their husbands' pensions.88 A Kigali man who cares for several orphans went to the Social Security office to claim their benefits. The agent told him the children were not eligible because their parents died in Congo. He then gave up, realizing it was costing him more in time and money to claim their supposed benefits than it would use his own funds to pay their school fees. He was also afraid to draw attention to himself lest that lead to accusations that he had participated in the genocide.89

The ostensible logic behind this government policy is that it is difficult to prove whether these men are really dead, or whether they are actually fighting with Hutu rebels still in Congo. Women's rights advocates involved in such cases told a Human Rights Watch researcher the government fears that self-proclaimed widows might send the money to their husbands abroad to support an armed rebellion.90 It is true that many women were separated from their husbands during the bombing of the refugee camps and forced repatriation and may not know their fate for certain. One woman from Kibungo, for example, thought her husband, an officer in the ex-FAR, dead. After spending more than two years without any news of him, she received word in 2000 that he was alive and well in Angola.91 As noted above, however, tens of thousands of refugees died of disease in the camps or were killed by Rwandan government forces, and their families want their losses acknowledged.

In some cases, widows have been denied government benefits even though their husbands' deaths can be proven with certainty. An elderly woman who cares for two school-aged grandchildren told a Human Rights Watch researcher how she has battled to claim her husband's benefits since 1997. A retired civil servant, he died of dysentery in a refugee camp in Tanzania in front of numerous witnesses. She succeeded in getting a death certificate, but was turned away at the Social Security office. They told her to get affidavits from ten more people who saw her husband die and helped bury him, which she managed to do more than a year later. "I was really proud," she said. "Now I would be able to get my money and start helping [my family] myself." But the agent was not satisfied. "Anyone can do this," he said. "Your husband is fighting over there with the Interahamwe and Kabila." She continued to go back and to write letters, with no success. "He died an old man.... It is impossible to think he could be fighting in the forest!" she lamented. "I don't know what they want from me."92

Denial of Property Rights
Unknown numbers of children are being denied ownership and inheritance of their families' property by adults who unscrupulously profit from their vulnerability. Without their land, many have no place to go, no means to support themselves, and no connection to their family legacy.

Claudia U. from Kigali survived the genocide by seeking refuge with relatives in Ruhengeri when she was thirteen. Later on, she returned alone to her family's home near the Kigali airport to find a soldier living in her house. Neighbors advised her not to claim the house back lest the soldier threaten her. So Claudia U. abandoned the house and went to live with a maternal aunt. She found life difficult with her aunt, whom she said had no means to support her, and went to a center for unaccompanied children not far from her family's home.93 Another young genocide survivor from Taba commune, Gitarama told Human Rights Watch researchers that he did not dare return to his parents' home because he believed that Interahamwe were still there and would kill him.94 Fréderic S. was thirty years old when he came to tell a Human Rights Watch researcher about violations of property rights he and his ten and thirteen-year-old siblings suffered. He said he considered himself a "child" head of household in Rwandan culture in spite of his advanced age because he felt unable to marry and start his own family as long as he was responsible for raising his siblings. He struggled to pay their school fees, but said this would not be a problem if he could recover his parents' four houses in Kigali and rent them out. Their mother was in prison on genocide charges and their father was killed by the RPF. "We are afraid," he said. "People have died because of houses. They have also disappeared."95

Children on their own are often easy prey. A woman came and evicted Anita M. from her house and land in Gikongoro, citing debts the girl's father owed her. Her lawyer said she was able to resolve the matter after discovering that the woman had forged the signatures and fabricated the unpaid debts, assuming that the child would be easily manipulated. Anita M. was one of the lucky few to have access to legal assistance to help claim her rights.96

In some cases, children lack adult guardians to advocate on their behalf. In others, it is their very guardians who take advantage of them for personal gain. As mentioned above, families frequently agreed to take in a foster child with the hopes of taking over the child's property. A lawyer who represented numerous women in property disputes lamented that paternal relatives have even gone so far as to chase away a mourning widow in order to be named her children's guardians and take over the property.97 Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which children lived on the streets while their would-be protectors occupied or rented out their property. A social worker in Butare told Human Rights Watch researchers about two aunts who battled for guardianship of their common niece clearly seeking control of her property. The girl lived on the streets, begging and scavenging for food and repeatedly subjected to sexual abuse.98

Samuel Z. had an extremely melancholy air about him for a fifteen year-old when he spoke to Human Rights Watch. An orphan, he lives with his maternal aunt and her family in Kigombe, Ruhengeri. His aunt's husband considered him a burden and wanted to throw him out of the house, but the aunt refused. She said she had no choice because she had tried to send him to live with his paternal relatives, but they refused to receive him. "I took him there more than five times," she said, "but they refused to take him."99 Samuel Z. goes to town every day to sell bread his aunt has baked, and gives her the profits. He said he had no friends because he had no time to interact with other children-he was busy selling bread during the day, doing domestic work in the evenings, and sleeping at night. He said he thought a lot about his problems but had no one to talk to. His aunt went to court to be appointed his legal guardian and hoped to recover Samuel Z.'s inheritance from his father's family's significant land-holdings. His paternal uncle in turn accused the aunt of claiming the property for selfish reasons. Samuel Z. told Human Rights Watch researchers that he would rather be his own guardian. Even if he succeeded in claiming the property, he would have no choice but to continue living "this bad life," if his aunt were allowed to manage it.100

As noted, some two million refugees, primarily Hutu, fled into exile in the aftermath of the genocide, mainly to what was then Zaire and to Tanzania. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of primarily Tutsi refugees who had spent a generation in exile returned to Rwanda en masse. The new government permitted these "old caseload" returnees to occupy houses and land left vacant by those who had been killed or fled the country. In 1997, large numbers of the so-called new caseload refugees who had fled in 1994 returned within a short span of time, relying on government promises that they could reclaim the property they had left. However, government officials often failed to uphold this promise. People who tried to claim their homes back were often accused of genocide, sometimes falsely.101 This applied to children as well as adults. Francois Xavier H., sixteen at the time of the genocide, said he found a woman he did not know in his family's house when he returned from Zaire in 1997. When he tried to claim the house back, the woman accused him of genocide. He was arrested and detained at the local lockup, local authorities confiscated papers he had received from neighbors attesting that he was not implicated in the genocide, and he waited for months without being interrogated.102 Government policy shifted in 2000, and officials began pressuring old caseload returnees to vacate houses they occupied illegally if the original owners persistently demand their return. For most children, the necessary persistence was too much to expect.

Mohamed T., then age twelve, and his older brother returned from Congo on their own in 1997. The boys found another family occupying their Kigali home and complained to local authorities. The authorities told them to be patient and, three years later, Mohamed T. said that he was still waiting. There is a small lean-to on the edge of their family's property where he and his brother-both of whom fend for themselves on the streets of Kigali-would sleep sometimes. If the new occupants of their house discovered them there, though, they would throw them out and threaten them. When that happened, Mohamed T. would go to sleep under a nearby bridge. Mohamed T., now an adolescent who appears hardened by life on the streets, cried while explaining this situation. "Imagine having to sleep under a bridge and not being allowed into your own house," he lamented. "Things weren't so bad when we had parents. It's not fair."103

The two groups of repatriated refugees also clashed over ownership of land dating back to 1959. Rwandan law and policy fail to establish clear rights to these disputed lands. Old caseload returnees in positions of power took advantage of this situation to grab land and, again, children were among the victims.104 A resident of Kamembe town in Cyangugu told Human Rights Watch about a typical case affecting his family in a rural area of the province. Descendants of pre-1959 landowners escorted by two RPA soldiers approached a family member known to be a troubled alcoholic to demand their land back, and he succumbed to their pressure. The land in question was supposed to belong to two orphan girls who study at a boarding school, but they will not inherit anything now, he said. Family members, who learned this after the fact, did not bother to complain to local authorities, because the authorities had been "worse than passive" in other similar disputes. The local councilor is related to the descendants of the previous owners.105

At the same time, some old caseload repatriates in Cyangugu who were not given land struggled to survive, and a few reportedly died of hunger in March 2000. A landless elderly man incapable of feeding his family lamented, "What hurts is the orphans with us. We don't know what to do-where can we take the orphans? We must keep them. When we die, they will become street children. They don't even know where their parents lived."106

Gender discrimination is also prevalent in Rwandan society, particularly with regard to property rights. A landmark law that grants girls the right to inherit land took effect in 1999.107 The law has been widely hailed by the international community as a great step forward.108 On the hills, however, equality is a long way off. The law itself, while clearly an improvement, is flawed. Most notably, the law does not protect illegitimate children of either sex-including the many whose parents followed traditional wedding rituals but not civil marriage formalities-unless they go to court and successfully prove paternity.109

And in practice, families and local authorities continue to apply customary norms rather than the new law.110 Paternal grandparents or uncles regularly confiscate the land, evicting the surviving children. Households headed by women-either widows or women whose husbands are in prison-are also frequently forced to become second wives of a brother-in-law or sent back to their parents' home in accordance with traditional practices. Women and children rarely complain, often because they are not familiar with the new law or because they think that claiming their property rights would be detrimental to their interests since they rely on their husband or father's relatives for protection. And those who dare complain to local authorities rarely receive satisfaction. "Local authorities are the first not to understand the new law," explained one lawyer who conducted seminars to teach local officials what the law means in practice. "If neither the woman nor the official knows the law, there is obviously no chance of its application."111

Rwandan Law and Practice
An international aid worker who is an expert on children's rights lamented an "utter vacuum" of institutions to protect children's property rights.112 While this is an exaggeration-local authorities and courts do enforce children's property rights in many cases-the system is woefully inadequate. Even fewer protections exist against other forms of abuse and exploitation, notably the denial of the right to education and the rights of child domestic servants.


In 2001, the Transitional National Assembly passed a law on child protection that provides for many of the protections set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The law instructs the Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs to set standards for organizations and families to protect the welfare of children in their care. It guarantees every child the right to have adoptive parents or an official guardian. It makes primary education free and compulsory, and prohibits hazardous child labor. It also requires parents, guardians, or others responsible for children to respect the rights of the children in their care, "depending on their possibilities," and empowers the Ministry of Local Government to oversee this. It mandates the National Human Rights Commission to follow up to ensure children's rights are upheld.113 In light of the abuses described in this report, implementation of this law remains a distant aspiration.

A step in the right direction, the law is not sufficient to implement the rights guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child in practice. The law criminalizes extreme forms of violence, neglect, and exploitation of children, including rape, abandonment, and torture. Yet it fails to create remedies for the commonplace violations of the right to education, the right not to be exploited as a domestic servant, and the right to own and inherit property.114 Although the law stipulates that the state will provide legal assistance for children who lack guardians and are involved in court cases, it does not oblige officials to intervene in the majority of cases of exploitation that never make it to court for reasons discussed below. In November 2002, the Ministry of Local Government published a draft policy on orphans and vulnerable children and initiated a dialogue with members of civil society to elaborate strategies.115

The Rwandan government embarked on a review of the legal framework for foster care in June 1995 (separate from the law discussed above), but, as of end 2002, had yet to complete this.116 In the absence of such a framework, there is little recourse for those seeking to protect a foster child's best interests, inheritance rights, or access to food, education, and health care. Social Services International (SSI), an international NGO that places children in foster care and monitors their situation, has drafted a "host commitment" to which it requires foster families to adhere before placing children with them and monitors their compliance with it. However, this has no legal force and only applies to the less than one thousand children placed and monitored by SSI-a small fraction of all fostered children. When asked what steps the Butare provincial government takes to protect children in foster care, for example, the Sub-Prefect in charge of social affairs attempted to justify the spontaneous nature of fostering by stating simply, "It is African."117

The Civil Code does provide for court appointment and supervision of guardians. Official guardians are required to manage the child's property in accordance with the interests of the child and to return the property to the child when the guardianship ends, and can be sanctioned for failure to do so.118 However, few follow the legal procedures to be appointed a guardian and, in any case, there are few safeguards to prevent courts from granting guardianship to caretakers who are exploiting children in the first place, such as in the case of Frederic Z. discussed above. A lawyer who has worked on numerous cases involving women and children's rights remarked that conflicts over guardianship are almost always because a child has property.119 There is also a national law governing adoption, but few children are formally adopted.120 The Civil Code does not provide remedies for those denied the right to education or otherwise exploited.

In any case, adequate legal protection is but the first step. As with the 1999 law granting women and girls the right to inherit property, any new laws on the books will be difficult to enforce without extensive information campaigns over time, for those affected and for those responsible for their enforcement.

Most children whom Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed who were exploited for their labor or property or denied their right to education had accepted their fate without considering the possibility of remedying the situation. The younger and more vulnerable the children, the less able they are to protect their interests. A group of children living on the streets in Butare said that they were waiting until they reached the age of majority in the hopes that they could then go back and claim their property. Most of them were on the streets in part because their property had been occupied by others. There was no point, they explained, in a child taking on the system.121

Jean Paul L. decided not to complain when a paternal aunt appropriated his property and house in Kigali Rural. "The neighbors advised me not to shout," he said. At the time, he was able to support himself and his younger sister because he had a job at a Kigali restaurant. After he was recruited, against his will, to serve in the Local Defense Force in late 1999, however, he found it impossible to make ends meet.122

Legal professionals who represent women and children in their property claims say that a victim who is not well liked by her neighbors or by local authorities is much less likely to succeed. In some communities, the minority genocide survivors are more vulnerable, whereas the families of those accused of genocide are the most marginalized in other places. Four children in Kigali, for example, are living with various family friends. Their mother has been in prison on genocide charges for a number of years. Their father was arrested in August 1999 and reportedly beaten to death in detention in Kigali. A man who was caring for one of the children told a Human Rights Watch researcher that supporters of the family attempted to claim the family house back for the children but gave up when they met severe resistance. As these were not their own children, the effort they could expend on the problem was limited. Further, he said, it could potentially be detrimental for their caregivers to draw attention to their association with the family of those presumed guilty of genocide.123

Property disputes involving children rarely make it to court. Adults rarely take property disputes to court either, and many Rwandans do not even know that it would be possible to seek legal recourse.124 A representative of the Ministry of Local Government in Ruhengeri had dealt with only two property cases involving children in the past year, he told Human Rights Watch in late 2000, leading him to the conclusion that orphans did not face serious problems in this domain.125 A paralegal in Gisenyi likewise said that she had represented only two children in property disputes and, in fact, both of her clients had been over eighteen by the time they came to her.126 The then Ministry of Gender and Social Affairs also posted several paralegals in provincial capitals. They were later transferred to the Ministry of Gender and Promotion of Women in a government reshuffle, when the gender portfolio was separated from social affairs, so that the paralegals' mandate now extends only to women, not children.127 Several local women's associations employ paralegals in Kigali and in provincial capitals to assist women and children with their legal problems. But few of those affected, many of whom live far away and cannot afford transportation, know that these services exist.

For children who do not have official guardians to seek recourse in courts, they must first obtain a legal guardian through court proceedings. Alternatively, a savvy victim may request legal "emancipation" to bring an action on his or her own behalf.128

Most children interviewed for one study said they believed that local administrative officials, who typically deal with property and other local disputes, are most likely to intervene when the children's rights are not respected.129 Many complain, however, that officials rarely resolve the disputes in favor of children in practice. Lucille B., a young orphan, said she made repeated visits to her local sector councilor and cell leader for help in getting her property back from her stepmother, but they never acted on her requests. She eventually gave up and moved to the streets.130 Patrick N. of Ngoma, Butare said he thought he had exhausted his local remedies when, finally, the burgomaster agreed to help him get his house back from squatters. While waiting, he heard that the property had been sold, so he went back to the commune only to find that a new burgomaster had been appointed. The new burgomaster told him to go back to the councilor, who refused to help. Overwhelmed, he then gave up and went to the streets in Kigali.131 The councilor of Musaza sector of Rusumo told Human Rights Watch that he could do nothing for a family of children living in a flimsy house made of mud and plastic sheeting. Under the councilor's watch, a governmentally-organized village had been built on part of their family's land, and they must walk thirteen miles round trip in order to reach the small plot they had been allocated in exchange.132

Corruption can also be an impediment to enforcement of children's property rights, and adults are generally more able to pay bribes officials than children are. One lawyer experienced in this domain explained:

Local authorities are not at all cooperative. Some try, but others look at personal interests over the problems of their constituents. So people need to go all over to get anything done. A little blockage at the local level over nothing-the official wants something you don't have, so he leaves you to the devil. This happens especially at low levels. Officials treat people as if their rights are not equal, even if they are in the same position. This is linked to poverty-they are not paid, so they need to make do.133

Vincent K., a young genocide survivor from Gitarama on his own fell victim to this. He approached the sector councilor when neighbors occupied his property. The councilor told him to negotiate with them to share the land. The councilor and population stood by and watched the unbalanced negotiation without intervening. Not surprisingly, Vincent K. lost. He then went to live with the councilor to work as a domestic servant at age seventeen.134

232 UNICEF, Recovering Childhood, 1995, p. 14.

233 Human Rights Watch interview, Kibungo, May 10, 2001.

234 United Nations Agencies in Rwanda, Common Country Assessment 1999-2000, Paper 11, Child Protection, Page 6; Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, Rwanda's Women and Children: The Long Road to Reconciliation, New York, September 1997.

235 Human Rights Watch interview, Butare, March 5, 1996.

236 U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Great Lakes: Special Feature - Unaccompanied Children, July 30, 1997, para. 3.

237 Of these, 87 percent were reunified with relatives by the end of 1998. International Committee of the Red Cross, Annual Report 1998: Rwanda.

238 Unaccompanied Children, IRIN, para. 14.

239 See Regulations for Orphans and Separated Children's Centres, Government of Rwanda, Kigali, 1994. See Articles 20 and 22(2), Convention on the Rights of the Child.

240 Human Rights Watch interview, Butare, March 23, 1996.

241 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, March 21, 1996.

242 Human Rights Watch interview with a social worker at the center, Butare, March 23, 1996.

243 Unaccompanied Children, IRIN, para. 17; Women's Commission, Rwanda's Women and Children, pp. 23-25.

244 Human Rights Watch interviews with staff of international child welfare organizations, Gikongoro, March 5, 1996 and Butare, March 5 and 14, 1996.

245 Rwanda Country Programmes, Report of the 6th Inter-Agency Regional Meeting on Separated Children in the Great Lakes Region, 18-19 August 1999, Kigali, Rwanda.

246 International Committee of the Red Cross, War and family links: The ICRC's Rwandan Unaccompanied Children programme (1994-2000), (accessed May 1, 2002).

247 Human Rights Watch interview, Butare, October 20, 2000.

248 Human Rights Watch interview, Butare, March 7, 1996.

249 Human Rights Watch interview, Gikongoro, March 5, 1996.

250 Lindsay Hilsum, "Children flee to Burundi camps," Guardian (London), July 5, 1994.

251 UNHCR, Refugee Children: Guidelines for Protection and Care, Geneva, p. 54.

252 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, March 21, 1996.

253 Human Rights Watch interview, by telephone, Lausanne, April 28, 1998; A. Briquet, Délégué, Terre des hommes, to M. Le Président et M. Le Premier Ministre of Rwanda, May 27, 1994, enclosing Protocole d'Accord (Butare prefecture); Sylvain Nsabimana, "The Truth About the Massacres in Butare," undated manuscript (provided by Sylvain Nsabimana).

254 Human Rights Watch interview with former aid worker who dealt with children
returned from abroad; Kigali, February 20, 2002; Unaccompanied Children, IRIN, para. 13.

255 "The Right over Rwanda's Lost Children," Newsweek International, November 13, 2000; "Rwanda Wants Children Orphaned in 1994 Genocide Back Home," Associated Press, August 15, 2000.

0 Ministry of Local Government, UNICEF, and Save the Children Alliance, Umwana wanjye ni uwawe ni uwacu, My child, your child, their child: The Rwandan experience of foster care for separated children, Kigali, 2001, p. 14.

1 Human Rights Watch interview with Steve Morgan, country representative, Save the Children Fund - UK, Kigali, October 3, 2001.

2 United Nations Agencies in Rwanda, Common Country Assessment 1999-2000, Paper 11, Child Protection, Page 6. The Rwandan government and U.N. agencies frequently cite 400,000, though it is difficult to assess the accuracy of this figure. UNICEF defines the term orphan as a child under age fifteen who has lost a mother or both parents. More than 65,000 of the some 120,000 children registered as unaccompanied in refugee camps after the genocide were eventually reunified with families, but only some of these are with their biological parents. Experts estimate that 120,000 to 200,000 children were spontaneously fostered, and that as many as 300,000 children live in child-headed households, as discussed below, many of whom have since reached the age of majority.

3 For a detailed analysis, see Ministry of Local Government and UNICEF, Struggling to Survive: Orphans and community dependent children in Rwanda, Kigali, 2001.

4 Martien Schotsmans, A l'écoute des rescapés, Rwanda, December 2000, Pp. 26-7, 61-64.

5 Human Rights Watch, "The Search for Security and Human Rights Abuses," p. 4.

6 A reported 66.7 percent of a group of 491 women interviewed by Avega Agahozo, the primary association of women widowed during the genocide, said they suffer from HIV/AIDS. The study attributes this alarming statistic to rape during the genocide. Avega Agahozo, Survey on Violence Against Women in Rwanda, Kigali, December 1999, p. 24. See also, Human Rights Watch/Africa, Shattered Lives.

7 UNAIDS / World Health Organization, Rwanda: Epidemiological Fact Sheets on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections, 2000 Update (revised), December 2000, p 3.

8 Ibid.

9 See Ministry of Local Government and UNICEF, Struggling to Survive, Chapter 6: "The HIV/AIDS Pandemic: Implications for the situation of orphans in Rwanda," pp. 74-93.

10 As of mid-2001, about 5,000 of the more than 100,000 prisoners accused of genocide had been tried. Approximately 20 percent were acquitted. LIPRODHOR, Quatre ans de procès de génocide, Kigali, 2001.

11 Human Rights Watch interview, Butare, March 10, 1995.

12 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, November 6, 2000.

13 Human Rights Watch interview, Butare, August 25, 2000.

14 Human Rights Watch interview, Butare, October 19, 2000.

15 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, July 28, 2000.

16 Official categories include orphans, children in child-headed households, street children, and children in prison. Human Rights Watch interview with Straton Nsanzabaganwa, Director of Social Planning and Protection of Vulnerable Groups in the Ministry of Local Administration and Social Affairs, Kigali, October 3, 2001.

17 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, December 11, 2000.

18 Human Rights Watch interview with Straton Nsanzabaganwa, Kigali, October 3, 2001. There were twenty-seven centers at the time of the interview, but a center in Kibuye closed on December 26, 2001, placing the thirty-eight children living there with host families. Radio Rwanda News Broadcast, December 26, 2001.

19 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, July 28, 2000.

20 Human Rights Watch interview with Eduard Munyakazi, representative of the Ministry of Local Government in Ruhengeri, November 21, 2000.

21 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kigali, May 4, 2001 and November 7, 2000.

22 For a detailed analysis, see Ministry of Local Government, UNICEF, and Save the Children Alliance, My child, your child, their child.

23 Women's Commission, Rwanda's Women and Children, p. 31.

24 "Rwanda: Adopted orphans `exploited and tormented,'" U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), April 2, 2001.

25 Human Rights Watch interview with Béatrice M. and a jurist representing her in the paternity suit, Ruhengeri, December 8, 2000. Although already over eighteen, Béatrice M. had to first request an "emancipation" from the Ministry of Justice to act as her own guardian, as the legal age for civic responsibility is twenty-one. Otherwise, the very uncle she was suing might have been appointed her guardian.

26 Ministry of Local Government, UNICEF, and Save the Children Alliance, My child, your child, their child, p. 63. Typically, Rwandan children do not use the surnames of their parents, so whose name the child will take is not an issue.

27 World Vision / UNICEF, Qualitative Needs Assessment of Child-Headed Households in Rwanda, Kigali, 1998, p. 3. Even once the heads of household reach the age of majority, they still consider themselves children-unable to marry or move on with their own lives while they maintain responsibility for younger siblings. Though this 1998 survey is commonly cited, some analysts have called the figure of 300,000 into question, and there is a need for new research and statistical data.

28 U.S. Department of State, "Rwanda," Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001, March 2002, Section 5.

29 Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development, Research into the Living Conditions of Children who are Heads of Households in Rwanda, March 2001. 2411 child heads of families in twenty-four communes participated in the study. The report does not indicate how researchers defined childhood.

30 Ministry of Local Government and UNICEF, Struggling to Survive, p. 37.

31 World Vision / UNICEF, Qualitative Needs Assessment of Child-Headed Households in Rwanda.

32 Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development, Research into the Living Conditions of Children who are Heads of Households in Rwanda.

33 Ibid.

34 Ministry of Local Government and UNICEF, Struggling to Survive, p. 49.

35 World Vision / UNICEF, Qualitative Needs Assessment of Child-Headed Households in Rwanda, p. 18.

36 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, July 28, 2000.

37 Ministry of Local Government and UNICEF, Struggling to Survive, p. 82. See also Women's Commission, Rwanda's Women and Children, p. 31; and World Vision / UNICEF, Qualitative Needs Assessment of Child-Headed Households in Rwanda, p. 5-6.

38 Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development, Research into the Living Conditions of Children who are Heads of Households in Rwanda, p. 3.

39 Ministry of Local Government and UNICEF, Struggling to Survive, p. 35.

40 World Vision / UNICEF, Qualitative Needs Assessment of Child-Headed Households in Rwanda, p. 20; Human Rights Watch interview with Ancille Kagabo, sous-prefect of Butare, Butare, April 25, 2001.

41 Schotsmans, A l'écoute des rescapés.

42 Ministry of Local Government and UNICEF, Struggling to Survive, p. 51.

43 Ibid, p. 67.

44 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, November 6, 2000.

45 Human Rights Watch interview, Butamwa, August 4, 2000.

46 Ministry of Local Government and UNICEF, Struggling to Survive, p. 46.

47 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, November 15, 2000.

48 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, July 21, 2000.

49 Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 23; International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, 1999. (Ratified by Rwanda, May 23, 2000.) See discussion of international legal standards below.

50 UNICEF, Country Statistics: Rwanda, (accessed May 2, 2002). Under Rwandan law, primary education is compulsory. However, the law does not specify up to what age children must be in school. Due to the disruption of war, displacement, and economic difficulties, it may often take children up to ten years to complete six years of primary schooling.

51 United Nations, Rwanda: United Nations Development Assistance Framework 2002-2006, Kigali October 2001, p. 13.

52 Ibid.

53 Technical Committee and Ministry of Local Government, "Draft National Policy for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children in Rwanda," November 12, 2002, p. 2.

54 Human Rights Watch interview, Butamwa, Kigali Rural, August 30, 2000.

55 Ministry of Local Government and UNICEF, Struggling to Survive, pp. 44-45.

56 Human Rights Watch interview, Nyakizu, Butare, October 20, 2000.

57 Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development, Research into the Living Conditions of Children who are Heads of Households in Rwanda, p. 4.

58 Human Rights Watch interview, Kinigi, Ruhengeri, November 19, 1999.

59 Art. 28.

60 Human Rights Watch interview, Nyakizu, Butare, October 20, 2000.

61 The government allocates funds from the national budget, through the Ministry of Local Government, to the genocide survivors' fund, and the Ministry of Local Government oversees administration of the fund. Human Rights Watch interview with Straton Nsanzabaganwa, Kigali, October 3, 2001.

62 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, October 3, 2001.

63 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kigali, December 10, July 29, and September 28, 2000. Tutsi repatriates who returned to Rwanda after the 1994 genocide are not eligible to receive assistance from the survivors fund.

64 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, July 28, 2000.

65 Human Rights Watch interview with Eduard Munyakazi, Ruhengeri, November 21, 2000.

66 Human Rights Watch interview, Rusumo, October 30, 2000.

67 Human Rights Watch interview, Ndusu, Ruhengeri, December 7, 2000.

68 Human Rights Watch interviews, Tare, Kigali Rural, November 7, 2000.

69 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ndusu, Ruhengeri, December 7, 2000; Tare, Kigali Rural, November 7, 2000; Rusumo, Kibungo, October 30, 2000.

70 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, August 9, 2000.

71 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, August 9, 2000.

72 Human Rights Watch interview, Rwamagana, Kibungo, May 10, 2001.

73 Human Rights Watch interview, Muhazi, Kibungo, September 13, 2001. He was over eighteen years of age, though still in his fourth year of secondary school.

74 Human Rights Watch interview, Boston, November 9, 2001.

75 Human Rights Watch interviews with Straton Nsanzabaganwa, Kigali, October 3, 2001 and with Eduard Munyakazi, Ruhengeri, November 21, 2000. The "cell leader," who governs the lowest administrative level (the cell), prepares a list of all the needy children in her jurisdiction. The "sector councilor" then compiles a list for the several cells making up the sector. Finally, the district mayor (formerly known as burgomaster of the commune) prepares a final list for the entire district.

76 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, August 8, 2000.

77 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, August 9, 2000.

78 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, December 5, 2000.

79 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, September 30, 2000.

80 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, December 8, 2000.

81 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, August 19, 2000.

82 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, October 16, 2000.

83 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhango, Gitarama, October 19, 2000.

84 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, December 5, 2000.

85 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kigali, August 19, 2000 and Gisenyi, October 16, 2000.

86 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kigali, December 28, 2000, Bulinga, February 13, 2001. Hutu residents of Bulinga have begun to demand that the former burgomaster be prosecuted for these killings. Human Rights Watch interviews, Kigali, October 3, 2001 and Bulinga, October 5, 2001.

87 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, December 5, 2000.

88 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, December 5, 2000.

89 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, July 28, 2000.

90 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, December 5, 2000.

91 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, September 8, 2000.

92 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, December 8, 2000.

93 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, February 25, 1998.

94 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, February 25, 1998.

95 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, August 11, 2000. See Human Rights Watch, "The Search for Security," p. 19.

96 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, December 5, 2000.

97 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, September 28, 2000.

98 Human Rights Watch interview, Butare, October 20, 2000.

99 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, November 20, 2000.

100 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, November 20, 2000.

101 See Human Rights Watch, Uprooting the Rural Poor (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2001), pp. 8-10; Human Rights Watch, "The Search for Security," p.19. The Rwandan government has correctly pointed out that the fact that someone was arrested when he tried to claim his property does not in itself mean accusations are baseless. However, some were clearly arrested on trumped up charges. Republic of Rwanda, Reply to Human Rights Watch Report, "Rwanda: The Search for Security and Human Rights Abuses," Kigali, June 2000, (June 2000).

102 Human Rights Watch interview, Rutonde cachot, Kibungo, February 19, 1998.

103 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, August 8, 2000.

104 Human Rights Watch, Uprooting the Rural Poor, pp. 7-8, 46-50.

105 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, November 16, 2000.

106 Human Rights Watch interview, Kamembe, Cyangugu, May 17, 2000.

107 Law no. 22/99 of 12/11/1999 to Supplement Book I of the Civil Code and to Institute Part Five Regarding Matrimonial Regimes, Liberalities, and Successions.

108 See, e.g., Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict Welcomes Rwandan Law Allowing Girls to Inherit Property, Press Release HR/4465, March 20, 2000.

109 Human Rights Watch interviews with women's rights experts, Kigali, September 24 and 28, and December 5, 2000, Kigali. See also Jennie E. Burnett and Rwanda Institute for Sustainable Development, Culture, Practice, and Law: Women's Access to Land in Rwanda, Kigali, July 2001.

110 See Burnett and Rwanda Institute for Sustainable Development, Women's Access to Land in Rwanda.

111 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, September 28, 2000.

112 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, July 24, 2000.

113 Law Relating to Rights and Protection of the Child Against Violence (English version).

114 Convention on the Rights of the Child, arts. 19, 28, 32, 34, and 36.

115 Technical Committee and Ministry of Local Government, "Draft National Policy for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children in Rwanda," November 12, 2002.

116 Ibid, p. 12. See also Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Children: The Future of Rwanda, no. 3, September 30, 1995, p. 14; Human Rights Watch interview with Straton Nsanzabaganwa, Kigali, October 3, 2001.

117 Human Rights Watch interview with Ancille Kagabo, Butare, April 25, 2001.

118 Loi relative à la personne et la famille en droit civil rwandais, October 27, 1988, arts. 361, 385, 387, and 388. See also Juristes Sans Frontières, « Droits et devoirs pour prendre en charge un enfant non-accompagné, » Montpellier, France, 1995. See also Ministry of Local Government, UNICEF, and Save the Children Alliance, My child, your child, their child, pp. 29-39 for an overview of relevant legal and policy guidelines.

119 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, September 28, 2000.

120 Juristes Sans Frontières, « Droits et devoirs. »

121 Human Rights Watch interviews, Butare, October 19, 2000.

122 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, September 30, 2000. Sources close to him think he was sixteen when recruited as a member of the Local Defense Force, but he thinks he might have been eighteen.

123 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, July 26, 2000.

124 See Human Rights Watch, Uprooting the Rural Poor, p. 53.

125 Human Rights Watch interview with Edward Munyakazi, Ruhengeri, November 21, 2000.

126 Human Rights Watch interview, Gisenyi, December 15, 2000.

127 Human Rights Watch interview with paralegal of the Minister of Gender and the Promotion of Women, Ruhengeri, November 21, 2000.

128 Loi relative à la personne et la famille en droit civil rwandais, October 27, 1988, arts. 361, 385, 387, and 388. See also Juristes Sans Frontières, « Droits et devoirs. »

129 Ministry of Local Government and UNICEF, Struggling to Survive, p. 65.

130 Human Rights Watch interview, Butare, August 24, 2000.

131 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, March 11, 1998.

132 Human Rights Watch interview, Rusumo, Kibungo, October 29, 2000.

133 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, September 28, 2000.

134 Human Rights Watch interview, Taba, Gitarama, February 11, 1998.

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