Rwandan children speak out against violence

Rwandan children, including those who live in refugee camps and those who have been demobilized, last week condemned the violence perpetuated against them, during the annual Children’s Summit held under the theme “fighting against violence against children.”

Rwandan children, including those who live in refugee camps and those who have been demobilized, last week condemned the violence perpetuated against them, during the annual Children’s Summit held under the theme “fighting against violence against children.”

The summit saw the attendance of the nation’s top officials, including President Paul Kagame, as well as representatives of children from East Africa.

“It is time our parents had the courage to speak out against violence done to their children,” said child delegates,” rather than feeling ashamed and hiding egregious crime like rape. They need to denounce perpetrators so we can all be protected.”

This was just one of the many recommendations forwarded by children attending Rwanda’s annual Children’s Summit. Other recommendations called on children to take action against violence by informing local authorities of abuse, or to stop stigmatizing children who are survivors of violent acts. The government was asked to establish an agency to deal with violence in each of the country’s 416 sectors, and every citizen was called to uphold the rights of the child.

“This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said Diane Irakoze, a young girl of fourteen. “It is time everyone realized that we are not for sale.”

This year’s Children’s Summit, which has become an annual event, brought together over 400 children from each of the country’s 30 districts to focus on the role of children in fighting violence perpetrated against them. Although there are no reliable statistics on violence against children in Rwanda, over 100,000 children in the country live in child-headed households, where they can be exposed to violence and abuse. In addition, 10.6% of children in Rwanda work in conditions that may be hazardous to their health and well-being, including in stone quarries and tea plantations.

Children who are employed as domestic workers are also often exposed to all sorts of exploitation, abuse and violence, including sexual violence. Moreover, child labor contributes significantly to increase the rates of school drop-out.

“We are aware of the violence and the risks that our children face,” President Paul Kagame said. “That is why children have a right and must participate in nation building. It is only by your actions and ability to stop people from doing harm to one another that we can build a strong nation,” he added.

This is all the more important, he remarked, because children are tomorrow’s leaders. “The children and the youth of the East African Community are the leaders of today and tomorrow,” the President said. “Any nation that aspires for development must invest in education of children. Children must be given the opportunity and the right to participate in all matters that affect the nation and that affect them directly.”

Kagame also promised to set up a Children’s Commission to look into issues of violence against children.

“The United Nations in Rwanda remains committed to promoting children’s rights in this country,” added the UNICEF Representative, Joseph Foumbi. “Therefore we have supported the establishment of an Observatory on Child Rights, a free legal aid campaign, a recently enacting law protecting children and others from gender based violence and the development of a draft integrated Child Policy that takes into account violence against children.”

Earlier this year, the UN also helped inaugurate the nation’s first one-stop centre for survivors of child, domestic and gender based violence. Since its launching in July 2009, the centre has already provided free medical, psychological and legal assistance to more than 200 children and women.

“We all have a role to play infighting violence,” President Kagame told the children. “I ask you all to be brave and courageous and be the first to say no to acts that go against the realization of your rights.”

The idea of a Children’s Summit was born during the 10th Commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide with children expressing their feelings about what had happened and how this had affected them. Leaders, including President Kagame, were so moved by the voices of children that the Government of Rwanda decided that the summit must become an annual proceeding.

Each year since 2004, children themselves have proposed, not only what they themselves can do about a particular theme, but what adults can do to help them. In 2006, children defined a world that was fit for them. The 3rd Summit held in 2007 resulted in children writing a chapter in the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy for 2008-2012. And last year’s Summit focused on fighting the genocide ideology.

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