The rise and rise of Kigali street children in lockdown

Friday June 19 2020

Relax time! Street children resting on an

Relax time! Street children resting on an advertising sign during their lunch time at the busy Nyabugogo suburb. PHOTO | FILE  

ARAFAT MUGABO
By ARAFAT MUGABO
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Covid-19 school closures have increased numbers of street children in Kigali and other urban cities of Rwanda.

Residents in Kigali and the outskirts of the city have raised concern over the increasing number of street children as schools remain closed.

After the closure of schools, the city of Kigali and the National Council for Children established temporary shelters in each urban district to accommodate these kids waiting to be reintegrated with their families.

According to the city of Kigali, resources have been mobilised to make sure the operations are conducted smoothly using child-friendly approaches.

Statistics show that for the last four months 590 children have been reunified with family and others taken to rehabilitation centres with 14.7 per cent of recidivism.

Partial opening

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However, residents say the government intervention is not sufficient to permanently address the menace of increasing numbers of street children while students stay in the lockdown.

A mini-survey by Rwanda Today at Nyanza tax park in Kicukiro District, Nyabugogo, Remera, Gasata in Nyarugenge, Kabuga town and Gahanga trading centre found that the number of children begging on the streets had tripled.

Before the lockdown, for example, the rise and rise of Kigali street children in lockdown Nyanza tax park had about 20 child beggars on the streets but last week, we counted over 70 shabbily dressed children begging for coins and food.

“We no longer hang our helmets on our motorcycles when entering in the restaurants at lunchtime because when you dare to do it you come back when it has been taken by street kids,” said Jean Pierre Jamubandi, a motorist and resident of Gahanga in Kicukiro District.

“When schools closed things were okay because the whole country was under total lockdown, but the partial opening of movement has made many children get out of their homes and into the streets,” says Jamubandi.

He says many of them are from underprivileged families finding it hard to feed them and allow them to fend for themselves in the streets.

“I agree there is a need for more interventions by those concerned to prevent the increasing number,” said Robert Mwesigwa, executive secretary for the National Youth Council.

“Even in my residence these days I see many more street children than before the outbreak and closure of schools," said Mr Mwesigwa, adding "children are using the closure of schools excuse to escape home and onto the streets.”

He blames parents who are encouraging their children to revise their books. Ms Epiphany Nyirasafari, a single mother of four in Kicukiro, said since the outbreak of Covid-19 she has been struggling to feed her children with the little food supplied by the government.

Poverty factor

“I used to work in a bar in Kigali but since they closed it I have no other income to feed my hungry children. So it becomes hard to keep them inside and they go out to beg,” says Ms Nyirasafari.

Ten-year-old Kenneth Murenzi, in Remera, said every afternoon his mother tells him to go out to beg for food and other basics.

“Most of them are those abandoned by their parents, and others influenced by their peers, although poverty is also a leading factor,” said Umutoni Gatsinzi Nadine, Vice Mayor of City of Kigali in charge of Socio-economic Affairs.

She said that a partnership with the police, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and the National Children Commission ensures children in their custody are tested for Covid-19 before being reintegrated with their families.

The city of Kigali says that families were economically hard hit by the pandemic, closure of schools and domestic violence, all contributed to the rise in the number of street children.

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