Child protection

Violence, neglect, exploitation and abuse affect children in homes, families, schools, communities and other places where children should feel safe.

A young boy in a school uniform peeks out of a wooden schoolhouse window
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The Challenge

Violence against children and young people is a fundamental violation of their rights. Sexual, physical and emotional violence have a devastating impact on health and happiness and prevent children and youth from contributing to societies to their full potential.

In Rwanda, over half of all girls and six out of ten boys experience some form of violence during childhood. Children are usually abused by people they know – parents, neighbours, teachers, romantic partners or friends. Only around 60 per cent of girls in Rwanda who are victims of violence tell someone about it, and the rate is even lower for boys.

In many cases, children and young people do not seek help because they feel violence is their fault or is not a problem. Many also believe that women should tolerate violence, especially to keep the family together, and that men should hold the power in sexual relationships.

Violence causes emotional scars that often last much longer after the physical scars fade.

When children are victims of violence, they are more likely to abuse other children and to carry this violent behaviour into adulthood. Violence during childhood can also lead to mental distress, early pregnancy, sexual risk-taking, and even thoughts of suicide.

Urgent action is needed to respond to the violence inflicted on children and young people.

A boy crosses his arms and turns away from the camera
UNICEF/UN0302677/Bell

The Solution

The child protection system in Rwanda is still emerging. The number of children in need continues to exceed the system’s ability to care for them.

UNICEF has helped the Government of Rwanda make several important improvements in recent years:

  • Establishment of 44 “One-Stop Centres”, where victims can report violence, receive mental health counselling, and access medical services.
  • Building a workforce of professional social workers and psychologists, legal experts, police, and almost 30,000 community child protection volunteers known as “Inshuti z’Umuryango” or “Friends of the Family”.  These “Friends of the Family” help identify, refer and respond to cases of violence, abuse and neglect in their communities.
  • Finding loving family homes for around 3,000 children who previously lived in orphanages and other institutions.
  • Development of the Justice for Children Policy in 2013 and the Justice for Children guidance in 2017.

In Rwanda, UNICEF focuses on strengthening the national child protection system alongside the Government. We envision a child protection system which can help prevent and respond to violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

This system would ensure that:

A girl holds her hand up to the camera

National institutions can legislate, plan, budget, coordinate and enforce child protection at all levels of government.

A child protection volunteers sits and counsels a family on recognizing forms of violence.

Child protection service providers can deliver these services efficiently and effectively.

A boy smiles outside his school with his friends

All girls and boys – including their families – can prevent and respond to violence, neglect, exploitation and abuse, especially by addressing social norms which perpetuate violence and discrimination.