Author: Greenwell, K.F.
The Ministry of Labor & Social Affairs (MINITRASO), with others, estimated that between 400,000-500,000 children were lost or separated from their parents during the last decade. Among all the vulnerable children, who are not always easy to identify and count, and hence difficult to monitor, children living in UAC centers represent an important group of vulnerable children. (UAC centers are commonly referred to as orphanages. Technically, however, not all residents are orphans.) Unlike other children living on the street or in child-headed households, children attached to these centers are supervised and accessible. They can be accurately enumerated and, thanks to the work of several NGOs, fundamental statistics can be collected on their life history, contacts in the community, health and education status. A clearer picture of the children who live in centers may be valuable in learning the characteristics of the larger population of vulnerable children.
Purpose / Objective
This study aims to bolster Rwanda's implementation of the principles in the CRC. The immediate objective is to gather data and disseminate information to decision-makers regarding the situation of children living in UAC centers. The long-term objective is to establish an information system with a mechanism for regularly monitoring the situation of unaccompanied children.
Systematic data collection on the characteristics of all 3,475 children who were living in all of the 24 registered UAC centers was performed using the following data collection methods:
- Interviews of local center directors
- Interviews of social worker and/or other local staff persons who were familiar with the children and with archival sources pertaining to the children
- Desk review of archival records such as family tracing documentation, child history reports, centre registers, letters or attestations from local authorities, and records on the child's health and education status
- Compilation of verbal reports from personnel in the center and, sometimes, by speaking with the child personally
- Observations on the functioning of the centre (e.g. how the children in the center are organized, who are the major funding sources, what are the admissions criteria, etc.)
Key Findings and Conclusions
A large majority of unaccompanied children entered UAC centers for reasons related to war and genocide. Among the 90% of children who entered in or after 1994, about half entered by the end of 1997 and the other half in 1998 or later. Those entering shortly after the genocide are mainly due to familial disruptions related to these troubles, while children entering in more recent years (1998 or later) are evidence of a continued demand for institutionalized child care by families who cannot ensure their child's survival or development needs.
Many of these children have been reunited with their family (or extended family members) or placed in foster families. These family placement efforts, mainly in 1995 and 1996, have led to the number of unaccompanied children and UAC centers to decrease. The overall average time that children have lived in a centre is 5.04 years.
In recent years - in a period absent of civil strife - children are continuing to enter centers. Many families cannot afford to provide the basic needs for their children, and social service programs are extremely limited. Placing their child in a centre is perceived by these families as a better alternative to raising him or her at home.
Overall, 92.5% of the boys and 91.4% of the girls aged 8-13 years in UAC centers are enrolled in primary instruction. This is significantly better than for children aged 8-13 years in the general population in 2000: 74.5% of boys and 74.1% girls were enrolled. Most children in UAC centers were reported to be generally in good health (86.7% of boys and 87.9% of girls) at the time of data collection. Among the children not reported to be in good health, 42% suffer from a mental or physical disability (26% and 16%, respectively). About 2.6% of all children in UAC centers have confirmed or suspected cases of HIV/AIDS.
Most centers report that they are running close to, or even over, full capacity. There should be guidelines in place to assess the capacity of a centre; standards adopted to regulate living conditions in centers; and a mechanism implemented to closely monitor the flow of children in and out of centers. It is the latter activity on which this study has focused.
In light of the above petition to revive and improve a standard monitoring mechanism, the following recommendations are put forth:
Step 1: Maintaining statistics at the local level
Implement a standard array of statistics to be maintained on all children entering and leaving the centre.
Organize regional training for UAC centre authorities and their designated 'archivist(s)' to introduce how to maintain a single register to track children.
Step 2: Collecting statistics at the national level
Work with MINALOC and inter-ministerial child protection stakeholders to explore how, and how often, statistics should be collected from centers.
Develop a database/spreadsheet that would be updated regularly and easily analyzed.
Step 3: Producing, presenting, and disseminating Basic Indicators
Basic indicators from compiled statistics would be produced much like the ones shown in this report.
Dissemination by MINALOC, or a collaborative/inter-ministerial entity, may publish a regular bulletin or newsletter, much like the one published bi-monthly by MINITRASO/UNICEF in 1995-1996 ('Children: the Future of Rwanda' series in English and French).
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Child Protection - OVC
Ministry of Local Affairs, Ministry of Finance and Economy