Left at the border: family separation in Rwanda

30 Oct, 2014

At least 200 children under the age of five are left vulnerable, with strangers and lack of care, every day in the district of Rubavu in Rwanda. Older children from the same border town are now also dropping out of school to care for the toddlers.

Uyisenga Ni Imanazi (UNM) have launched a new project on family separation, specifically looking at the plight of children left at the border when their parents cross into the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC].

As part of UNM’s commitment to implementing the Guidelines for Alternative Care*, they have brought together multiple stakeholders to search for a sustainable solution to this problem.

UNM CEO Chaste Uwioyeye said: “Too many of our children are growing up without the presence and loving care of their parents who cross the border for business and leave their children unattended.

“We must collaboratively look for alternative solutions and change of policies regulating individuals, especially mothers who do trans-border business. We must also address the problem of the local pupils who now babysit the youngsters for just 300 frw per day.

“That is why we began this project with a two-day workshop in the area to specifically discuss advocacy on alternative care for abandoned children; to discuss the problem in depth – ask why are these parents forced to leave their children – and find common cause amongst those with the opportunity to affect change.”

The September workshop brought together representatives from different institutions including the Rubavu District and Sector authorities, the military and national police, NGOs, immigration, the National Youth Council and the Catholic Church – as well as local parents.

Participants in the meeting emerged committed to looking for sustainable solutions.  It was agreed to:

  • Engage in constant advocacy on the issue, to help more children to grow up within families as recommended by the Guidelines for Alternative Care;
  • Assist the older local children to go back to school;
  • Enhance the ability of mothers to carry out their business activities within Rwanda in order to remain with their children; prepare a budget for cooperatives of those women who suffer poverty – the most vulnerable families need national support in order to thrive and provide adequate care for their children;
  • Offer training on parental responsibility and child rights; teach parents about the consequences of lack of care and affection;
  • Avoid use of institutional transit centers  and close the so called “ECD”
  • To change policies regulating children left on the borders.

After the meeting in September UNM returned to Rubavu for meetings with parents and organised them into a community-based organisation – with the authorities and other NGOs working with children in the district. The group created networks in the communitiy and decided to stop leaving their children at the border. UNM will now drive the project forward to turn this short term success into a longer term solution.

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