An estimated seven thousand of Rwanda's most vulnerable children have fled the abuses described in the previous chapter to the streets of Kigali and provincial capitals in the hopes that they might make a better life for themselves. Called mayibobo in Kinyarwanda, these children have been demonized and marginalized by urban society. They struggle to find enough food to survive and to avoid the wrath of angry law enforcement agents or private citizens who treat them as a nuisance. In the face of gangs of these children who are often dirty and commit petty theft, it is easy for urban dwellers to forget that they are just that-children.
UNICEF and the Kigali Archdiocese both published studies of the situation of street children in Rwanda in recent years. They found that approximately one third of children on the streets said they were so-called double orphans and one third had only one surviving parent. Few street children had had more than three years primary education. Many were separated from their parents during or in the aftermath of the genocide and had lived in centers for unaccompanied minors. Family problems including abuse, alcoholism, or stepparents who chased them out of the house fearing they would claim property destined for their half-siblings were also important factors driving children to the streets. Others simply attempted to escape the extreme poverty in which they lived on the hills, hoping to find work in town.135
Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed more than one hundred street children for this report on the streets and in centers conducting programs for them. Most of those interviewed effectively lacked access to property in their home regions: if they had property, it was often occupied by others. Nearly all had been exploited for their labor, and none had completed primary school. The insecurity in which they have grown up has taken its toll on them. It was, sadly, not surprising when a religious worker said that a small boy we had spoken to who looked pre-adolescent was in fact seventeen. His growth had been stunted by malnutrition.136
Life on the Streets
A minority of street children actually sleep on the streets, sometimes in doorways, in bins full of charcoal for sale, or even in open air covered with cardboard boxes. Most others find places to spend the night-with night guards, with families who use them as domestic servants for little or no pay, or with adults who give them a place to sleep on the condition that they bring home money or food each day. Louise N., who went to the streets at age thirteen, considered herself lucky when an old woman agreed to let her spend the night at her house in the Kimisagara neighborhood of Kigali. But if Louise N. failed to earn enough money carrying packages in the market, the woman would throw her out at night. Louise N. explained that life is especially difficult for girls who need to find a place to sleep. "It is dangerous to sleep just anywhere," she said.138
A 2002 survey by Johns Hopkins University on sexual activity among street children underscored that street children are extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. More than half of the boys interviewed and more than three quarters of the girls, including 35 percent of those under ten, admitted they were sexually active. Sixty-three percent of the boys said they had forced a girl to have sex with them. Ninety-three percent of the girls reported having been raped. One third of the boys and 8 percent of the girls knew how to get a condom, but only a handful reported using condoms all or most of the time over the past year. They averaged between two and three sexual partners during the previous six months. Most knew something about HIV/AIDS, but little about other sexually transmitted diseases. Ninety-eight percent of the girls and 72 percent of the boys said they knew someone living with HIV or who had died of AIDS. Two thirds of those interviewed had never attended school.139
Some 45 percent of children interviewed for the Archdiocese study said they were aged sixteen or older.140 Only 19 percent of them had mandatory identity cards. Others complained that the process was too complicated and long, or they did not want to go to their home communes to apply for the cards.141 Social workers and legal assistants in centers for street children attempt to help the children obtain their identity cards, but have been blocked by a lack of documentation and, at times, uncooperative local authorities.142
The services street children perform are an important part of the informal economy. For example, urban dwellers who otherwise frown on the children regularly pay them to carry their purchases at the market or to guard their cars in downtown neighborhoods. The children also collect garbage and engage in small-scale sales of cigarettes, candy, hard-boiled eggs, peanuts, etc. Employers frequently use the children for hazardous labor for little pay. In Butare, social workers lament that the children are used as to arrange liaisons between local men and prostitutes in exchange for a small commission.143 Their "employment" can be very precarious-if a child falls sick or a policeman confiscates her goods for sale, she has nothing to fall back on. Benjamin U. considered himself lucky when a woman agreed to take him in as an unpaid domestic servant. When he began a training program in mechanics for several hours a day, though, she threw him out and he was left to live on the streets again.144
Street children frequently resort to petty theft to aid their survival. Contrary to popular assumptions, however, they rarely engage in more serious offenses. Some of the older street children and young adults have committed more serious crimes, including rape. However, international aid workers working with children in prison confirmed that most of the minors in prison on charges of rape were living with their families and were not street children.145 In Kigali, children frequently break into cars to steal reflective triangles, which traffic regulations require all cars to possess, and then sell them back to motorists for 1500 Rwandan francs (approximately U.S. $3). One social worker in Butare has noticed that, most often, she sees children harassed for having stolen avocados or bananas.146
There are nongovernmental centers for street children in the major cities. These centers, distinct from centers for unaccompanied children, provide services including education and/or vocational training, counseling, and food and medical care for participating children. UNICEF and the European Union provide funding for some of the centers' activities. Many of the centers are affiliated with the Catholic Church. The Kigali Archdiocese, which supports four centers, has worked to coordinate efforts and conduct research and advocacy. It also employs a full-time paralegal to help children in its four centers with legal issues, primarily supporting their property rights. The other centers lack the resources to provide legal assistance for the children they work with.
The director of the Intiganda center in Butare said that the center aims generally to prepare the children to return to their families on the hills within six months, but this is rarely possible. Often, she said, it can take up to two years for a troubled child to feel ready to return to the hills or for the center to find a suitable host family. In many cases, she added, the family structures the children left lack the capacity to take the children back in.147 When Jean Pierre M.'s father died, his paternal uncle sent his mother away. The uncle ostensibly allowed the boy to stay in the family home, but took over his family's agricultural land. Jean Pierre M. was only twelve, and could not live alone in a house without any means to support himself, so he went to the streets. Social workers told Human Rights Watch that they later attempted to reunite the boy with his mother. After a brief period, his new stepfather threw him out of the house, threatening harm to his mother unless the boy left. So Jean Pierre M. returned to a center for street children. A social worker who went to visit the boy's mother after the boy returned to the center said she had corroborated this version of events.148 A Butare social worker visited Joseph K.'s family in the province to prepare for him to move home. She gave up her quest and accepted that he had nowhere to go when she saw that his mother and siblings lived in a very small shelter-and that there was literally no room for the boy to fit into the family's home.149
At times, the government has been hostile to the centers for street children. One advocate for street children said officials have accused the centers of indirectly attracting more children to the streets by providing services for them.150 The director of one center told a Human Rights Watch researcher that authorities had chastised her for caring for children for too long as well. "If you keep them so long, it encourages other children to come to town, come to the street," a municipal official told her. "That makes the problem worse."151 Ironically, when Kigali authorities came under increasing pressure after the start of massive roundups in June 2001, discussed below, the vice mayor told Human Rights Watch that the city had called on the centers to do more and care for even more children. The city did not, however, provide a corresponding increase in resources for the centers to deal with the large increase in residents. And he emphasized that the city did not endorse the work of day centers that provide educational programs but where children were not resident.152
Angry citizens, too, have at times felt empowered to take the law into their own hands, apprehending and beating children they suspect of stealing. In Butare a merchant beat a boy to death in late December 2000. He suspected the boy of having stolen. The murderer was reportedly arrested.155 An RPA soldier shot a street child to death in a crowded Gisenyi market in June 2000 after the teen had allegedly knocked over a table of tomatoes belonging to the soldier's wife. Witnesses said that other street children, angry over the murder, began throwing stones. Local police then arrested seventeen children in order to restore order and detained them overnight in the Gisenyi police station. When a Human Rights Watch researcher went to the Gisenyi police station the next morning, the commander on duty said that the soldier had been arrested and that the seventeen children would be freed later that day.156
Sixteen-year-old James D. from Kibungo complained to Human Rights Watch researchers that he felt terrorized by members of the Local Defense Force and older street children alike who frequently beat him. But he said he had no one to turn to, nowhere to go to complain.157 One foreign aid worker said that efforts were underway to provide training for the national police to try to improve their capacity to protect children's rights. But he was dismayed that the police had consistently refused to provide the international community with any information, making it difficult to monitor children's rights.158 Ways must be sought to address the hostility that exists between street children and law enforcement agents-police should treat the children as children, and the children should be taught-and shown by police practice-that the police are there to protect all citizens, including them.
Cleaning the Streets
The last time the government had attempted to "clean" city streets was one year earlier. On June 19, 2001, the mayor of Kigali started to implement a plan to systematically round Kigali's street children up, in an attempt to rid the streets of street children, ostensibly once and for all. Over the following weeks, local authorities arrested some 1,300 street children.160 In the face of mounting criticism from the international community in Kigali, the city transferred most of the children to nongovernmental rehabilitation centers after detaining them for days or weeks in city jails. Many escaped and returned to the streets as soon as they thought the streets were safe.
The vice mayor charged with youth affairs explained to Human Rights Watch that the Executive Committee of Kigali City met in May 2001 and decided to deal with the problem of street children by any means necessary. He said city authorities believed they had acquired the sole and unlimited authority to do so under the recent program of decentralization. The vice mayor said Kigali would be pleased if the prefects and national government chose to collaborate in this effort, but would continue whether they liked it or not.161
The Transitional National Assembly had summoned the Minister of Local Government, Desiré Nyandwi, to explain what the government would do to resolve the problem of street children on two occasions in June 2001; shortly before Kigali City authorities began systematic roundups of street children.162 But his deputy, Secretary of State Dr. Odette Nyiralirimo, told Human Rights Watch that neither the central government nor prefects of the other provinces were informed of the Kigali initiative or played any role in it.163 She did not say whether the Ministry of Local Government had been involved in roundups of street children in Butare and Kibuye that took place during the same month.164
Over the course of several weeks, members of the Local Defense Force in Kigali, acting on instructions from the Kigali Mayor, systematically rounded up children by force and took them to local police stations and other Kigali jails. Not surprisingly, children resisted the roundups, which in turn resulted in the use of physical force, including beatings by their captors. Some of the roundups were conducted in broad daylight, in full view of Kigali residents. Several witnesses said they saw children riding in pickup trucks, with members of the Local Defense Force holding them at gunpoint.165 Other children were made to walk to detention centers when rounded up. A thirteen-year-old boy told Human Rights Watch that members of the Local Defense Force woke him up in the abandoned car where he normally slept in Nyamirambo. Then they tied him together with an estimated fifty-five other children using T-shirts or cloth to bind their arms to one another and walked across town in a long line to the Muhima police station. He said that members of the Local Defense Force, some of whom were armed, escorted the children to Muhima, hitting them and threatening them lest they dare try to escape.166
One night at midnight, about a week after the roundups started, members of the Local Defense Force found two sleeping children who had escaped the initial roundups. The boys told a Human Rights Watch researcher that the law enforcement officers threw them into a truck filled with rotten food and maggots up to their ankles and transported them to a district office, where they spent the night in the lockup. At the district office, members of the Local Defense Force beat them. The next day they were transported to the Muhima station.167
As of June 26, the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs said that a total of 700 children had been rounded up thus far. She was not, however, aware that a roundup had taken place in Nyamirambo early that morning.168 At 1 a.m. that morning, Antoine K. watched an estimated fifty members of the Local Defense Force wake up children sleeping on the streets and force them into trucks while he hid in a doorway. The roundup was not terribly violent, he told a social worker, as only those who tried to escape were beaten. Two hours later, he saw those who were captured taken away in a large truck; he estimated there were three hundred of them.169 The social worker, who related the story, explained that the street children often speak of fears of being sent to Iwawa. Human Rights Watch researchers were not able to confirm reports that children were taken there in 1998.170 The social worker added that Antoine K., born a refugee in Uganda, had been a kadogo-a child soldier-with the RPF.171
In some cases, the Local Defense Force rounded up all the children who looked to them like street children, including some children living with their families. One young boy from Gikondo neighborhood in Kigali said he went to the market at 8 a.m. to buy groceries for his mother and, the next thing he knew, a member of the Local Defense Force grabbed him and took him to a lockup and, a few days later, to a rehabilitation center. At the rehabilitation center, he said he missed his parents and was worried that they had no idea where he could be.172
During the June roundups in Kigali, most of the children were initially taken to the police station at Muhima. There, several hundred were held at a time for periods ranging from one day to a week. The vice mayor said that the children were not accused of any crime.173 A Human Rights Watch researcher interviewed social workers and three children randomly selected from a group of 111 children who had arrived at a rehabilitation center two days before, and all reported ill-treatment at Muhima. They said police only provided food once every two to three days. Police also apparently tormented the children by beating them when they went to approach the source of water to take a drink. Some slept on the floor of the overcrowded lockup, while others reportedly spent the night outdoors. One thirteen-year-old boy said that police beat him with a rifle butt, injuring his ankle. He said it was swollen for three days, but had started to heal.174 Another, aged twelve, told Human Rights Watch that police used sticks to beat the children on the back of their thighs. "They mostly beat those who tried to escape," he said. "But they refused us water [at the police station]. We didn't drink for a while. When we went to get water to drink, they beat us."175 Yet another, also twelve years old, said that police threw stones at the children at the police station, hitting one boy on the head and another in the eye.176 Human Rights Watch did not receive any reports of children who incurred serious injuries in police custody.
National Police denied that the children were beaten while in police custody. When confronted with cases in which children had been beaten during roundups and at Muhima, Damas Gatare, in charge of human rights and community policing for the National Police, told Human Rights Watch that the police are not responsible for acts committed by members of the Local Defense Force.177 The vice mayor said that Kigali City, which supervises the Local Defense Force and ordered the roundups, did not discipline any members of the force for beating children.178
Those interested in the welfare of the children were not able to monitor children's rights effectively during the roundups. Representatives of UNICEF and local and international nongovernmental organizations all told Human Rights Watch researchers that police at the Muhima station denied them permission to visit the children in detention, telling them that the National Police was merely holding the children for the city. Only Kigali municipal authorities could authorize visits to the detainees, they explained.179 By the time a Human Rights Watch researcher obtained a meeting with the vice mayor, most of the children had already been moved from Muhima to rehabilitation centers. He denied having refused observers permission to have access to the children in detention.180 However, street children were still reportedly detained at Muhima in late 2001, though roundups were then less aggressive and less frequent, and UNICEF staff said they had not yet been allowed to access the police station.181
Further, Human Rights Watch was not able to obtain information about which children were rounded up and where they were taken. Children said they had not registered their names with the police. Not all of the children were taken to Muhima, but some were said they had been taken to district or sector offices. Staff of NGOs and UNICEF said they were not certain how many children were handled in this way, or where or when all were moved.182
Kigali authorities said they transported all street children who said they came from outside Kigali to their home provinces, claiming responsibility only for the children from the capital. They did not consult with provincial prefects before doing so, and the provinces were ill prepared to deal with the children.183 A Human Rights Watch researcher visited children who had been sent to Gitarama. A church-run center already housing local street children had been obliged to take them in, but employees complained that they had not received any prior warning or additional resources.184 A researcher who visited Butare was not able to determine where the children from Butare province had been sent. Employees of centers dealing with street children there said that they had not seen any children who had been rounded up in Kigali.185
In such a climate of confusion, some child protection workers lamented that there were no safeguards to prevent opportunists from taking small numbers of children to use for their own benefit. One international aid worker said that a group of children aged sixteen and older, those who lacked mandatory identity cards, were put in a truck and taken to the Kicukiro neighborhood of Kigali, and then to an undisclosed location. His attempts to trace their whereabouts were futile.186 Hutu rebels had attacked the northwest of Rwanda just weeks prior to the start of the roundups, and the war in Congo had recently intensified. This led to fears that some older children rounded up on the streets might be recruited for the military. Staff of two international NGOs told Human Rights Watch researchers they had received credible reports that street children were in fact recruited for the military in the wake of the roundups in isolated cases.187
The vice mayor told Human Rights Watch that the goal of the roundups was not to violate the children's rights but rather to protect children by removing them from the dangers of life on the streets.188 After brief periods in detention, authorities did, in fact, send children who were native of Kigali to existing centers that provide programs for street children, most to Project Rafiki in Butamwa district. When a Human Rights Watch researcher visited them at Butamwa, the children had food to eat, new clothes, and a place to sleep. The children all appeared visibly sad and distracted.189 Two weeks later, though, once the international spotlight had faded, social workers complained that Project Rafiki ran out of funds and was barely able to buy enough food for the children.
UNICEF was reluctant to support the government's efforts to care for children who had been rounded up forcibly on the grounds that such roundups violated the prohibition against arbitrary detention under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.190 While acknowledging that children are generally better off in centers than on the street, UNICEF did not want to reward the city for the means it had used. Instead, along with local and international NGOs, UNICEF attempted to hold a dialogue with the Ministry of Local Government and city authorities to develop a plan to help children leave the streets without violating their rights. At a meeting in Kigali on July 26, all participants-including representatives of Kigali City, the Ministry of Local Government, provincial governments, UNICEF, and NGOs-agreed to a plan of action and an end to forcible roundups. One of the drafters of the plan of action said the participants were dismayed when city authorities continued to round children up in the days following the meeting.191
Yet UNICEF failed to denounce the roundups or police ill-treatment of the children. Several sources close to UNICEF told Human Rights Watch researchers that the agency was extremely reluctant to pressure the government to cease forcible roundups for fear of antagonizing government officials. The vice mayor and representatives of the Ministry of Local Government intimidated UNICEF staff, accusing the organization of infringing on Rwanda's sovereignty, after failing to intervene to stop the 1994 genocide.192 The government had similarly threatened to expel UNICEF employees and "ruin their careers" for speaking out on this issue in the past, notably when UNICEF wrote a letter complaining about earlier roundups in February 2000.193
In April 1997, the government and military rounded up more than 1,600 children from the streets and sent them to a center at Shyrongi, Kigali Rural. The Ministry of Youth, Culture, and Sports apparently divided the children by age, and sent those over age thirteen to "solidarity camps" where they underwent training on political ideology and ethnicity along with returning refugees. More than three hundred of the younger children remained at Shyrongi where conditions were poor and they received very little assistance.195 Many escaped from Shyrongi and returned to Kigali within days. Francis R. told Human Rights Watch researchers that the fence surrounding the camp, though made of barbed wire, was not solid, making it easy for them to escape. He said he jumped through the fence and ran, then kept running all the way back to Kigali. "There were three classes," he said, "so they could say that we were studying. But how could we study with nothing to eat?"196 Street children use the word "marathon" to describe escaping from police custody because they must run far very quickly. While the "marathon" can be extremely difficult after having been beaten, one child told Human Rights Watch researchers that it is worth hurting oneself running to avoid being subjected to worse pain later.197
In 1998, the government conducted yet another massive, forcible roundup, this time taking the children to a center in Musebeya commune in Gikongoro Prefecture. Gilbert S., an orphan who used to stay with the director of a local nongovernmental organization in Kigali, was seized during this period. His former foster father said he never saw the boy again.198 Though the center at Musebeya was ostensibly to provide education for the children, it offered virtually no programming and the children had little access to basic services. After leaving Gikongoro, some children had to be hospitalized for illnesses they had contracted there.199 The camps at Shyrongi and Gikongoro were not well monitored. One foreign aid worker conducting research on children's issues at the time later told Human Rights Watch that it would have been easy for even hundreds of children to disappear. He estimated that 1,200-1,400 children were rounded up and taken to Gikongoro in November 1998. Approximately 400 of them escaped and returned to the streets of Kigali within a week. Others returned to the streets later or eventually went home to their families, but he was not able to account for all the children who had been rounded up.200 When asked how the 2001 Kigali roundups differed from the previous ones to Shyrongi and Gikongoro, Dr. Odette Nyiralirimo, secretary of state of the Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs told Human Rights Watch that, in 2001, officials separated the children from Kigali from those from other provinces.201
Several children who spent time at the camps at Shyrongi or Gikongoro told Human Rights Watch that they believed they saw soldiers recruit children there for the military. Rochelle S., a thirteen-year-old Kigali girl, testified that soldiers took her and five other children, four of whom she named, to a place where many other children were assembled in the forest on the shores of a body of water. There, the children were beaten and told that they would be taken to an island to join the military. She was not able to confirm when this took place. Rochelle S. and three others managed to escape, and ran the so-called marathon back to Kigali.202
In July 1999, gendarmes203 in Kigali conducted violent roundups of street children and detained them in cargo containers in the Remera neighborhood. Children later told aid workers that they had received little to eat or drink and were let out to use toilets only once or twice a day. Richard L. managed to escape from a container, but only after a soldier had beaten him with a rifle butt, causing a serious head wound that took months to heal. He told a social worker who helped him get medical care for the wound that two boys died in the poorly-ventilated container where he was detained, and soldiers had left the corpses there for days.204 Fourteen year-old Justin K., who spent one month in the containers, told Human Rights Watch that soldiers made the children come outside each day, then beat them with sticks.205 A police officer had asked Francis R. to come out of the container to do laundry for him. Francis R. obeyed, but then the policeman yelled at him to go back in, so he went in. After that, the policeman called him out yet again, and asked why the boy had refused to work for him. The policeman then bashed Francis R.'s head against the side of the container and threw him on the ground. When he told his story more than a year later, Francis R. showed Human Rights Watch a scar behind his ear from the beating.206
In 2000, authorities changed tactics. They rounded up street children on several occasions but, rather than attempting to confine them in rehabilitation centers, they simply transported the children to their home communes. Authorities in Kigali instructed local burgomasters (now called mayors) to encourage parents to take responsibility for their children, and to keep them at home. In one commune in Butare, parents were reportedly fined 3,000 Rwandan francs as punishment for having let their children go to the street-a questionable strategy given that most of the families reportedly could not afford 500 Rwandan francs for their children's school fees.207 Within days, most of the children had returned to Kigali. Some lied, telling authorities that they came from communes in Gitarama or Kigali Rural, located close to Kigali town, in order to make it easier for them to return to town quickly.208 Three girls in Kigali said they were rounded up at dawn on January 5, 2001. They spent two days at the Muhima police station and were then taken to Masaka, Kigali Rural, their prefecture of origin. One explained that they began their journey back to Kigali the same day, "to continue our lives."209 Children who escaped the roundup, which had been conducted by hundreds of law enforcement officers, made a plea to the government to provide them with assistance on the streets rather than force them to return to untenable family situations.210
Officials in other provincial cities have followed Kigali's lead and attempted to "clean up" their streets as well. In late June 2000, police rounded up street children in Gisenyi. UNICEF staff who visited Gisenyi the following day saw children who had been badly bruised and were still covered with blood.211 Children were also rounded up in Butare in January and June 2001, and in Kibuye in June 2001, as noted above. The national radio quoted Kigali Vice Mayor Antoine Semukanya confirming that the city rounded up street children (and unauthorized merchants) on September 17, 2001, and that in some circumstances, "Local defense people use violent means." He added, "We have cases where defense forces are beaten up by street children and hawkers."212 Kigali residents reported that yet another roundup took place there in late December 2001, most likely to clear the streets in preparation for Christmas celebrations.
Several children told Human Rights Watch that after having been rounded up once or twice, they could never be so careless as to let it happen again. A social worker said that one way the children escape capture is by recognizing that a roundup is being prepared-the national radio sometimes even announces the roundups in advance-and going into hiding for a few days, until the coast is clear.213 One boy described how he escaped from police custody in 1999. He was rounded up in the morning in the market and spent the day in a jail in the city market. More and more children were brought to the jail as the day wore on until authorities then brought large trucks to take the children to the stadium in Remera in the late afternoon. He ran to escape as soon as they got there.214 Children become proud of the ways in which they manage to evade capture, or to escape once they have been rounded up. In a meeting with the Butare sub prefect in 2000, one boy stood up and told her that rounding up the children only teaches them how to be craftier and how to escape the authorities' grip.215
"Teaching Children a Lesson": Violence in Response to Petty Theft
In the Kigali Central Market, those accused of theft are brought to a lockup inside the market. The children have nicknamed the lockup kw'ishuri, meaning "at school" in Kinyarwanda. Children who regularly work in or around the market report that they can be detained at this lockup as often as once a week. Boys and girls are detained together with adults. They say that members of the Local Defense Force who interrogate them at kw'ishuri frequently resort to physical force. Paul T., seventeen years old, told Human Rights Watch researchers that he had been hauled into kw'ishuri up to seven times per month. While there, police or members of the Local Defense Force would insult him for being a street kid and rough him up.
He said that, most often, they would release the children by 5 p.m. or even earlier if their supervisor came by and found children in the lockup.
Police also detain children for periods of days at urban police stations. One social worker told Human Rights Watch researchers that she sometimes has to take children from her center to the hospital after they have been detained at the police station in Butare because they have broken bones or other injuries resulting from beatings with sticks and iron rods.217 Police stations and city jails may provide little or no food for those detained there, based on the assumption that families usually bring food to their detained relatives. Unless guards take pity on them, street children in detention may not receive anything to eat. Children and social workers in Butare lament that children are often held for two or three days, even as long as a week, with no food. "When the police see that you will soon die of hunger, they let you go," said a social worker.218
When children who participate in programs offered at centers are detained, staff of the centers often go to the police station or lockup to intervene. Social workers told a Human Rights Watch researcher that law enforcement officials sometimes allow them to take their children out and reportedly beat the children less when social workers are monitoring them.219 The director of a center in Butare lamented that other children have chided her on the streets for having left them in jail.220
Children complain they do not always know why they have been arrested. Sixteen-year-old Pascal K., who was enrolled in a training program at a center in Butare, for example, was arrested by members of the Local Defense Force while on his way to watch a football match in town, beaten, and detained overnight in a local lockup, then released the following day. He is very indignant about the incident, failing to understand how they dared to arrest him when he had written permission from the center to go attend the game.221 A nine-year-old boy complained that he had been walking towards the Kigali bus station with a group of boys in early 2000 when they were attacked by members of the Local Defense Force, taken to the police station, beaten, and held for two days. He said they did not know why they were arrested.222
There does not seem to be any clear policy or process for law enforcement officials to follow when detaining street children. It appears from the children's testimonies that the objective of law enforcement officials is to bully them into returning stolen property, and to try to "teach them a lesson." One child explained:
Street children are rarely brought to Rwanda's central prisons, where suspected criminals are generally transferred when police establish their case files. They explain that the central prisons are for real criminals who commit serious crimes, not for street children like them. A group of eight street children in Butare said that neither they nor other street children they know had ever been interrogated by a prosecutor, met with a lawyer, or appeared before a judge.224 None of the more than one hundred street children interviewed for this report said they had been dealt with in the formal justice process either. The coordinator of the Ministry of Justice/UNICEF Project on minors in conflict with the law told Human Rights Watch that dealing with street children is outside of the project's mandate.225
Nor do law enforcement agents follow clear guidelines for dealing with children less than fourteen years of age who are not considered criminally responsible under the Penal Code. The Butare prosecutor told a Human Rights Watch researcher that children under fourteen should be detained for forty-eight hours and then released-to teach them a lesson.226 The sub prefect of Butare charged with social affairs, however, maintained that children under fourteen should not be detained under any circumstances.227 And the fact remains that street children younger than fourteen are routinely arrested and detained, but rarely if ever charged with any crime. Street children are, technically, frequently in violation of a national law against vagrancy, but authorities rarely prosecute this offense. The vice mayor of Kigali said that he would encourage prosecutors to begin charging children with vagrancy if they failed to stay off the streets after the roundups.228
Given the enormous overload the genocide caseload has caused the justice system and the total lack of a juvenile justice infrastructure, it may not be realistic or appropriate to expect the state to formally accuse and try children accused of theft. A representative of an international humanitarian agency cautioned it could even have perverse effects to insist that authorities mainstream children accused of petty theft in the regular justice system. It would certainly be worse, she said, for a child to spend a year or more in prison awaiting trial than to spend a few days in a local jail.229 The director of a center for street children in Butare expressed a similar view.230 They remained concerned, however, that it can be difficult to monitor whether children are arbitrarily detained or ill-treated in detention without an official procedure for dealing with them.
Sexual Violence against Street Girls
Many girls flee to the streets when families who have taken them in, either as foster children or as domestic servants, begin to abuse them.233 One girl, seventeen years old, recounted that she lost her job as a domestic servant after her employer's brother raped and impregnated her. Lost and with nowhere to go, she went to the street, was raped again, and later became ill with a venereal disease. She was diagnosed at a public hospital and given a prescription for antibiotics. Since she had no money to buy the medicine, though, she just kept the prescription in her pocket. She took the prescription out to show Human Rights Watch. She said she feared for the health of her unborn child.234
Most street girls manage to arrange for a place to sleep at night but must still go to the streets to perform odd jobs in order to earn enough money for food. When a stranger invites a girl into his home, he may have more in mind than simply giving her a place to stay. One young man invited two girls from the street to stay with him, supposedly for their protection. Once they got to his house, he took out a machete and raped each of them. Both were later treated for venereal diseases. A night guard invited four girls who stayed at the entrance of the Saint Michel Church in Kigali to sleep at his place rather than outdoors. They told Human Rights Watch that he raped them after he took them in.235
A Butare social worker said that Christina G. is what is known as a "child of the blue sky," the daughter of a single mother whose family had rejected her. Christina G. had come to live at Nyampinga, a center that provides some fifty street girls with a place to sleep, food and medical care, education, and skills training. Christina G. told the social worker that she felt compelled to leave the center to earn a living, though, when her mother was arrested, so that she could care for her mother's young baby, who is HIV-positive. She now complains to social workers, who continued to visit her, that she must beg for a living and that she is frequently raped.236
Adults who work with street children have remarked that girls are less vulnerable to arbitrary arrest than boys. The director of Nyampinga attributed this to the fact that they tend to move around alone, as opposed to boys who are often in groups.237 But the girls are nevertheless victims of occasional arrests and forcible roundups. Jessica, aged fourteen, was arrested in Butare in April 2001 and spent several days in the lockup of the police station, reportedly for having stolen food to eat.238 Law enforcement officers rounded up girls and women who were begging on the streets of Butare in January 2001.239 Girls and women who sell produce or other goods from baskets outside of the Kigali Central Market are likewise at risk of harassment by members of the Local Defense Force, who chase them away, beat them, and confiscate their merchandise, implementing a city policy to do away with unauthorized merchants outside the market. When rounded up, girls must sometimes spend the night together with boys and men in lockups.240
While on the streets, girls are at almost constant risk of sexual violence. Helen U. can tell stories for hours about all the times she was raped before going to live in a Butare center at age eleven. After she had been attacked by a few men, she quickly learned that they could run faster than her, and eventually just gave in to her fate. Her face is scarred where men repeatedly scratched her with their fingernails. Helen U.'s social worker was present while she spoke to Human Rights Watch.
One day, a man raped Helen U. and then turned a dog on her, leaving lasting scars on her legs. She says that passersby, including law enforcement officers, failed to intervene during this attack. Another night, two men came to rape her. They heard someone coming and ran away, and she, already bleeding, hid in a bush. She said that two soldiers241 found her there, and one proceeded to rape her again. At one point her belly swelled up and she thought she was pregnant. She had never menstruated. She first sought assistance when she became severely ill with venereal diseases and could barely walk. She is now in school and gets regular medical treatment. Helen U. fears that she faces a high risk of contracting HIV.242
A small group of girls who sleep on Avenue Paul VI in Kigali's wealthy Kiyovu neighborhood all complained to Human Rights Watch about repeated sexual violence. One of them, fifteen-year-old Speciose J., described how she was raped by a member of the Local Defense Force in Gatsata sector, and wound up with severe abdominal pains and venereal diseases. She says she accused him at the police station, and he was briefly detained but then released. Her friend told Human Rights Watch that a guard at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), who she says is a government soldier, forced her to have sex with him, and seriously beat another girl who refused him.243
Despite increased law enforcement attention to the problem of child rape across the country, violence against street girls is rarely punished. In one case, the paralegal who assists children at centers run by the Kigali Archdiocese has urged prosecution of a man who raped a street girl. The girl is now pregnant from the rape. The paralegal was not aware of any other cases of sexual violence against street girls being pursued by prosecutors when a Human Rights Watch researcher interviewed him in late 2000.244
161 Human Rights Watch interview with Antoine Semukanya, Kigali, June 28, 2001. For a discussion of the decentralization policy, see International Crisis Group, "`Consensual Democracy' in Post-Genocide Rwanda: Evaluating the March 2001 Elections," International Crisis Group Africa Report, no. 34, October 9, 2001.
170 Human Rights Watch has received isolated unconfirmed reports of military recruitment of street children since 1997. One Butare boy said that a soldier had attempted to convince him and other street boys to join the military, but did not force them when they declined. Human Rights Watch interview, Butare, October 19, 2000. Since 2000, most such reports were connected to round-ups.
172 Human Rights Watch interview, Butamwa, June 28, 2001. The children frequently confuse police, members of the Local Defense Force, and soldiers, all of whom they consider security agents. It is not clear whether they were beaten by members of the Local Defense Force and/or national police at Muhima.
228 Human Rights Watch interview with Antoine Semukanya, Kigali, June 28, 2001. Vagrancy is illegal under Rwandan law, though the crime is rarely prosecuted. Human Rights Watch is concerned that vagrancy laws may lead to arbitrary arrest and are per se inconsistent with the freedom of movement, guaranteed by international human rights law.