May 20, 2006
Children Illegally Detained in Rwanda
Human Rights Watch released a report last week on children in Rwanda being held in horrible living conditions in a detention center in the Gikondo neighborhood of the capital Kigali. The paper, “Swept Away,” documents how thousands of Rwandan children live on the streets of
Kigali and other urban areas.
Many of these children are orphans as a result of the genocide or AIDS pandemic and have no homes or adult supervision. City workers have been rounding up these kids since the late 1990s and since 2005 they are being detained in a former warehouse in Gikondo.
The report also states that Gikondo is a short distance away from some of the luxury hotels popular with Western tourists or international staffers. I imagine these hotel conference rooms being used by bureaucrats for their meetings on poverty erradication or refugee resettlement. Meanwhile a few kilometers away, the youngest citizens who most need protection are housed like animals with little if any access to education or nutrition/health care. Oh, all right, I’ll get off my soapbox.
Some detainees spend weeks or months living in these detention centers where they receive inadequate food, water, and medical care. They sleep on the floor without blankets or mattresses. Supposedly the detainees are charged as “vagrants” but there is no due process or formal judicial proceedings.
“Kigali city officials who are running the detention center recognize that it must be closed,” said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “Detaining children just because they are poor, dirty, and have no one to care for them violates their rights. Under international and Rwandan law, the state must protect these children, not just sweep them out of sight.”
The Institute of War and Reporting also prepared a paper on street children in Rwanda last August. It is available on ReliefWeb. While Rwandan government officials have pledged to do more to help street children and those living in detention, what is needed is more financial support for local communities in Kigali, so that they have social services in place to help those marginalized.