Rwanda has been called upon by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to take “urgent measures” to end abuse of its street children and should carry it out immediately, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
The Geneva-based treaty body also called for a halt to arbitrary detention of children in transit centers, for investigations into allegations of ill-treatment – including beatings –, and for amendments of the legal framework that regularizes this abuse.
On January 27, Human Rights Watch released a 44-page report documenting the arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of street children, who are held for up to six months at Gikondo Transit Center, in Kigali, the capital.
Since 2017, new legislation and policies under the government’s strategy to “eradicate delinquency” have sought to legitimize and regulate so-called transit centres. But Human Rights Watch found that the new legislation provides cover for the police to round up and detain street children at Gikondo in deplorable and degrading conditions, and without due process or judicial oversight.
“The UN committee’s recommendations to the Rwandan government to take concrete steps to prevent the arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of children are important to stop further abuse against some of Rwandan society’s most vulnerable children,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Under legislation introduced since 2017, people exhibiting “deviant acts or behaviours … such as prostitution, drug use, begging, vagrancy, [or]informal street vending,” can be held for up to two months in one of the 28 transit centres across the country, without any further legal justification or oversight. The committee said it was concerned that the existence of “deviant behaviours” in the legislation was leading to “the deprivation of liberty of children in need of protection.”
During the committee’s review, on January 27 and 28, the Rwandan government denied that the detention of street children in transit centres is arbitrary. The government also claimed that children in transit centres are either placed with a family or transferred to a “rehabilitation centre” within 72 hours.
These claims contradict reports by the National Commission for Children and the National Commission for Human Rights, as well as Human Rights Watch’s findings.
According to the government’s own figures, thousands of children may have been subjected to the kinds of abuses Human Rights Watch documented. In a statement on February 6, the government rejected the Human Rights Watch findings and said that 3,825 children had been “screened” at the Kigali Transit Center between 2017 and 2019.
The committee called for investigations into reported cases of ill-treatment and beatings of street children by police and transit centre personnel, and for the prosecution of the alleged abusers.
“The Committee on the Rights of the Child has made clear its worries over Rwanda’s most vulnerable children and the government’s failure to put their wellbeing first,” Mudge said. “Instead of issuing blanket denials, the government should make much-needed reforms, end the abuse of street children, and hold those responsible for beatings and ill-treatment accountable.” (Source: HRW)