2001 RWA: Struggling to Survive: Orphans and Community Dependent Children in Rwanda
Author: Veale, A.; Quigley, P.; Ndibeshye, T.; Nyirimihigo, C.
The complexity of the Rwandan situation, charges service providers with the responsibility to engage in reflective practice in order to constantly improve the design of programs and their potential to have a meaningful and sustainable impact at the community level. Therefore, in 1999, the Government of Rwanda, in conjunction with UNICEF, decided that is was necessary to conduct an in-depth analysis into the situation of orphans in the country. The rationale behind this decision was driven by the desire to explore the real situation of orphans and, in particular, the nature of their relationship to the communities in which they live. It is widely accepted that the vulnerability of orphans is likely to increase as a result of the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on the Rwandan population.
Purpose / Objective
The in-depth analysis into the situation of orphans was designed to explore the social biography of orphans within the wider context of a society balancing peace and reconciliation with the debilitating effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The assessment was concerned with providing information on how this situation could be improved through policy developments, improved co-ordination and the empowerment of local communities.
The objectives for the research are as follows:
- To identify existing and potential forms of community support for orphans
- To assess the contemporary definition of 'orphans' in Rwanda (It has been suggested that community perceptions of orphanhood are not static and that a diverse range of children are often referred to as orphans.)
- To establish and analyze the links between the continuing vulnerability of orphans and the HIV/AIDS pandemic
- To outline the policy framework and guidelines for intervention programs in Rwanda and to evaluate these in relation to the existing body of knowledge on the situation of orphans
- To evaluate the needs of professionals working with orphans and on HIV/AIDS-related programs
- To gather indicators on the nature and scale of the problems facing orphans and, in particular, on community awareness of HIV/AIDS issues -- modes of transmission, methods of prevention, etc.
- To reflect upon the types of program responses that have been implemented since 1994 and to provide a summary of the collective experiences of Government and NGOs
- To explore the role of the community in supporting orphans
An essential objective of this study will be to assess the role of the community in providing direct and indirect support to orphans. It is also important to assess the attitudes or opinions that manifest themselves as barriers to the improvement of services to orphans.
The sample population selected included a wide cross section of the different social groups characterizing Rwandan society from the six prefectures of: Kigali Ville, Kigali Ngali, Ruhengeri, Butare, Umutara and Kibuye. The participatory research process involved more than 1,200 people over a four-week period between May and June 2000. 54% of the participants in over 50 workshops and focus group discussions were children. Specific methodologies employed in order to elicit views, opinions and general information on the situation of orphans included Social Mapping, Story games, Comparative Analysis exercises, Rights and Protection matrices, Chain of consequence exercises, Thematic focus group discussion on the situation of orphans and the effects of HIV/AIDS.
As well as this qualitative dimension, over 350 questionnaires were administered to children in orphanages and care centers, centre staff, children in foster families and child heads of households to gather basic indicative statistics on the levels of awareness of sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, among vulnerable children and people charged with their care.
In-depth interviews were also conducted with key respondents from local and international NGOs, and government ministries. The respondents were selected through random sampling and through co-operation with local authorities and the representatives of NGOs and church groups.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Discussion on the definition of an orphan and the problems they face was often wide ranging and prompted much debate among the different sample groups. In general, there was widespread acceptance that technical definitions of an orphan corresponded to either that of a single or double orphan. Maternal orphans (especially children under the age of five) were seen as being much more vulnerable than paternal orphans. In more general terms, orphan status is also attributed to children who have difficulties accessing shelter, food, medicines, education, clothing, affection and other psychosocial needs.
Unfortunately, most of the groups contacted were of the opinion that the situation of orphans is becoming worse and that they are suffering from increased levels of social, economic and emotional marginalization. Many people believed that the number of orphans and other vulnerable children is too high in relation to the level of aid and support being received.
The fact that the capacities of the communities themselves have been so disrupted is also a serious problem that has implications for the effective use of aid. The problems faced by overburdened services are further compounded by the fact that many interventions are failing to reach or adequately tackle the problems of their target populations. That is, many of the orphans and, in particular, children living in child-headed households are slipping through the limited safety nets that do exist. The number of children living in child-headed households has been estimated at being somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000.
The fact that these children are marginalized from community structures and from protective adult and family care systems is decreasing their capacity to function in society. These children lack role models and, therefore, undergo a socialization process that has become removed from the cultural norms and values of traditional Rwanda. The children are left in a position where they are required to develop their own survival and coping strategies in order to deal with their numerous problems. Unfortunately, many of the coping strategies that the children have developed for themselves conflict with the traditional view of children, thereby placing them in conflict with social norms and values. Before the war and genocide, the communities were charged with the role of responding to the needs of vulnerable children. Orphans were successfully incorporated into the extended family structure and the existence of street children or child-headed households was minimal. This no longer appears to be the case; the scale of the problem and the fact that the community/extended family structures were decimated means that children are often required to fend for themselves. This situation often leads to conflict and a lack of understanding between children living without adult protection and the community.
The following key issues were discussed by a variety of professionals and concerned individuals involved in the provision of services to the orphans and other categories of vulnerable children. The issues highlighted below also include the views of representatives of government and local authorities who participated in the research process. As a result, the list tends to focus on more program-orientated and macro issues affecting the social services for orphans in Rwanda. According to our respondents, the key issues are as follows: Who is an orphan?; Stigmatization of some categories of orphans and child-headed households; Lack of follow-up and support of children reintegrated with families; Post-conflict social relations leading to distrust and suspicion in communities; Lack of resources/expertise to provide the children with adequate health and sex education, especially on HIV/AIDS issues; and economic capacity building at community level.
The active participation of children was an important part of the assessment process. Throughout the fieldwork phase, the participation of children was high (54% of respondents) and the children were often willing to discuss a wide variety of issues in an open and direct manner. The various groups of children that participated in the study identified the following issues as the most pressing in their lives: poverty; un-systematic aid; education and training - lack of access to education and vocational training; family reintegration and fostering; housing; exploitation; HIV/AIDS; psychosocial difficulties and isolation; and protection of children's rights.
The rationale underpinning most of the recommendations is the need to develop a more child-centered, rights-based approach to the provision of care for orphans in Rwanda. This approach should consider both the immediate and long-term needs of orphans and should be designed to facilitate their development as active members of society. Short-term care arrangements for orphans should be assessed in terms of the future development of the child and the quality of life that the child will have in the future.
Develop inclusive terminology and strategies:
The majority of people who took part in the research process felt that the ideal situation would be for all orphans to be treated equally and to receive the same levels of protection and care from the state. Indeed, equality in the provision of services for orphans should become an aspiration for all service providers in Rwanda. In the short term, however, it is likely that care for orphans will continue to be provided by local and international NGOs on the basis of targeting particular categories of orphans for different levels of support. In other words, many service providers are currently working from an 'issue'-based approach to care for orphans. Indeed, the different service providers are definitely attempting to give orphans much-needed assistance and are building up a body of considerable experience on how to support orphans affected by a range of issues. However, it is also important to explore the possibility of these organizations coming together in the future in order to share their expertise, to support each other and to develop a more co-coordinated and comprehensive response to caring for all orphaned children.
Develop community-based support programs for Orphans:
Many countries are using models of community-based care in order to deal with increasing numbers of orphans as a result of war and the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Unfortunately, the situation in Rwanda is somewhat different in that the community capacity has already been greatly reduced as a result of the war and genocide of 1994. The government of Rwanda is faced with the combined problems of an extremely high HIV/AIDS infection rate and the long-term effects of the events of 1994. Community mobilization programs need to explore the everyday concerns and priorities of communities before they can organize people to help themselves and the most vulnerable groups. For example, programs could include elements of trust rebuilding/reconciliation as well as more sustainable income-generation strategies. A useful initiative could be to develop Helpful Active Listening (HAL) and communication programs in order to facilitate a more open and effective dialogue between different groups in the community.
Improved training initiatives:
To develop a sector-wide training approach for professionals involved in the care of orphans. This training should also include representatives of Local Authorities and community leaders (e.g. representatives of social development committees and children themselves). This training should be designed to develop a clear and standardized understanding of issues relating to orphans. All individuals involved in the provision of care to orphans should receive training on social work, child development and psychosocial issues affecting children. The combination of basic social work training combined with psychosocial skills would help improve the quality of care being offered to orphans. These skills would also help care givers and social workers to increase awareness of the problems facing orphans and to develop community-based support systems. More specific training initiatives such as dealing with severe behavioral difficulties or parenting skills could be organized for individuals involved in more targeted forms of work with orphans such as tracing, reunification and especially fostering. A centralized training unit could be developed within the Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs in order to co-ordinate training activities and to conduct regular needs assessments for Ministry staff. This central training unit could liaise closely with Local Authorities at the prefecture level in order to ensure a more systematic approach to the development of social work. It is also important that training initiatives target social workers at the lower levels who have more direct contact with orphans and communities. In this way, the Ministry can try and ensure that new skills and information filter down and have an impact at community level.
Policy changes/adaptations to protect the interests of Orphans:
A number of policy initiatives need to be reviewed and clarified, and guidelines for implementation and enforcement need to be drawn up and disseminated to the relevant authorities. Key policy areas that need to be explored include: inheritance rights; access to education, medical services and accommodation (some of these areas are currently under review). The key issues facing orphans should be explored in terms of their legal ramifications and this information should be disseminated in a user-friendly format to both children and adults. For example, a guide to orphans' rights and entitlements should be developed and used as the basis for an education or awareness-raising program. However, such a guide will be limited by the constraints of national law and existing policy. For example, more information is urgently required on the situation of child domestics and children who have been fostered in Rwanda. This information is necessary in order to understand more about the quality of life experienced by these children and whether or not they are being exploited sexually or in terms of their labor.
A review of all organizations involved in the provision of services to Orphans:
The Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs should develop a comprehensive register of all the organizations working with orphans, including human rights NGOs and organizations providing medical assistance. This register could also include a profile of the programs currently being implemented and a review of the skills level of staff employed by these programs. Organizations working with orphans should also be asked to produce a strategic plan and long-term objectives for their programs. The prefecture level authorities could also be involved in the collection and analysis of this information, which would provide a useful overview of the state of services for orphans in Rwanda. This information could be published or circulated in order to provide a sectoral overview of organizations working the orphans sector.
A task force on HIV/AIDS should be established:
This task force could be charged with developing an inter-ministerial approach to dealing with HIV/AIDS issues and, in particular, how this problem is affecting the lives of children and orphans. The Government has already established the Programme Nationale de Lutte Contre le SIDA (PNLS) and this structure could be used as the basis for increasing the levels of co-ordination in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Steps should be taken to ensure higher levels of participation of UNAIDS, UNICEF, the Ministries of Local Government and Social Affairs, Education and Health and the local and international NGO communities in future initiatives. It is also vital for this body to consult with community groups and young people in order to ensure the relevance and, therefore, the effectiveness of programs.
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