Situation of Children in Rwanda

Over 45% of Rwanda's population is under 18, presenting unique challenges that must be addressed.

Preschool child in Rwanda holds hands with classmates
UNICEF/UN0302931/Nkinzingabo

The people of Rwanda are young. About 5.4 million out of its estimated 11.8 million people under 18 years old.

Over the past 20 years, Rwanda has achieved significant development progress and aims to reach middle-income status by 2020. It was also one of the few countries to achieve all of the Millennium Development Goals. Political stability, strong governance, fiscal and administrative decentralisation and zero tolerance for corruption are all strong contributing factors for this growth and development.

However, children and their families still face significant challenges. Despite rapid urbanisation, around three quarters of the population live in rural areas. Poverty remains widespread, with 39 per cent of the population living below the poverty line and 16 per cent living in extreme poverty. Children are disproportionally affected by this poverty, experiencing multiple deprivations of their basic needs.

Two preschool children in Rwanda hold balls and small at camera
UNICEF/UN0302662/Muellenmeister

The early years

The beginning of life is an especially vulnerable time for children. Out of every 1,000 births in Rwanda, around 50 of these children do not survive to see their fifth birthday. For every 100,000 mothers who give birth, around 210 do not survive. These rates of mortality are much higher in rural areas and among the poorest families. Although over 90 per cent of births take place in health facilities under the supervision of health professionals, over 75 per cent of deaths among children under five are due to complications in the neonatal period - the first month of life. 

Children in Rwanda are immunised regularly, and new vaccinations are introduced swiftly. However, when children are sick, they often do not receive the care they need as their parents do not always take them to a health facility. This indicates a strong need to improve "health-seeking behaviour", or prompt action when a child shows signs of treatable illnesses like acute respiratory infection, fever or diarrhoea.

The HIV prevalence rate has stablised at around 3 per cent. Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is strong, covering about 91 per cent of the at-risk population.

Mother and health worker in Rwanda hospital cradles baby
UNICEF/UN0303046/Bell

Although chronic malnutrition has declined, 38 per cent of children are still stunted. Children often do not receive adequately healthy and diverse foods, experience repeated infections or suffer from low birth weight. Stunting is even more common among rural children and children in low-income households. 

Poor water, sanitation and hygiene facilities contribute to these high rates of stunting. Only 64 per cent of households have their own latrine, and only 47 per cent have access to a clean, safe water source within 500 metres of their home. Just 5 per cent of households have hand-washing facilities with soap and water.

The best investment for a child’s future is to invest in the early years of their lives. But in Rwanda, many children miss out on this vital opportunity, impeding their optimal development and school readiness. Only 13 per cent of young children are enrolled in formal early learning programmes, with large gaps between rural and urban children. Fewer than half of caregivers encourage learning activities in the home.

Birth registration – a key passport to protection for children – reaches just 67 per cent of children in Rwanda.

Primary school girl in Rwanda rests on desk
UNICEF/UNI109888/Pirozzi

The school years

Rwandan children have almost universal access to primary education. Although the net enrolment rate is 98 per cent, approximately half of students are still not acquiring an adequate foundation of knowledge in primary school.

In 2016, the Government adopted the new Competency-Based Curriculum, focused on student-centred, participatory teaching methods. However, teachers in Rwanda still struggle to instruct in English, the official teaching language, and demonstrate ineffective teaching methodology in the classroom to address their students' various needs. 

There are roughly equal numbers of boys and girls in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools. However, boys outperform girls on national examinations. While girls are more likely to drop out of school, boys are more likely to repeat grades. 

Secondary school students in Rwanda in classroom wearing uniforms
UNICEF/UN0302411/Bell

The second decade of life

Adolescence is a time of risk and vulnerability, but also of peak growth and potential.

In Rwanda, many children and teenagers are raised in poor and vulnerable families and communities. Harsh child discipline and domestic violence are still common. Recent studies show that over half of children and young people experience physical, sexual or emotional violence before age 18.

Many young Rwandans start secondary school late; although children should begin secondary school around age 13, only 6 per cent of children in this age group attend secondary school. Only around 35 per cent of children aged 18 attend secondary school.

Around 80 per cent of HIV-positive Rwandans receive antiretroviral treatment (ART), but this drops to just 55 per cent for children age 14 and under. Adolescents often do not go for HIV testing, nor do they tend to use prevention and treatment services, resulting in a higher estimated HIV incidence compared to adults. 

Burundian refugee boy in Rwanda hides his face from camera in camp
UNICEF/UN0300461/Bannon

Current and potential emergencies

Rwanda is prone to natural disasters, including droughts, floods, landslides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The country also hosts more than 73,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and 89,500 from Burundi. Over 50 per cent of all refugees in Rwanda are children. 

UNICEF continues to respond in humanitarian situations, working in close coordination with government partners and the Ministry of Emergency Management.