Human Rights Watch said on Friday the call by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child for Rwanda to take “urgent measures” to end abuse of street children should be carried out immediately.
In observations released on February 13, 2020, the Geneva-based treaty body 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, “‘As Long as We Live on the Streets, They Will Beat Us’: Rwanda’s Abusive Detention of Children,” 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 centers. 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. “Rwanda should not only take these recommendations seriously and take action immediately, but it should also close down the abusive transit centers.”
Under legislation introduced since 2017, people exhibiting “deviant acts or behaviors … 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 centers across the country, without any further legal justification or oversight. The committee said it was concerned that the existence of “deviant behaviors” in the legislation was leading to “the deprivation of liberty of children in need of protection.”
The committee called for an end to this abusive detention and for the government to change the law.
During the committee’s review, on January 27 and 28, the Rwandan government denied that the detention of street children in transit centers was arbitrary. The government also claimed that children in transit centers were either placed with a family or transferred to a “rehabilitation center” within 72 hours.