An Umbrella of Human Rights Organization – (CLADHO) has showed that children were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic resulting into the increase in child labor which ma put the country at risk of having more street children.
Evariste Murwanashaka, the Program Manager and National child rights monitor said that the concern follows a research conducted in seven districts and refugee camps, , in 2020, to find out how much they knew about Covid-19.
The research, conducted on over 900 leaders, children and parents showed that 55.8% had right information on the virus and the rest had mixed information.
Also 65% of them didn’t have preventive gear or supplies such as sanitizers and 10% didn’t have face masks, while 45% of the children had fear of the virus due to lockdowns and school closures resulting in stress disorders.
The research also showed that poverty in families increased by 12% due to loss of jobs, drop in salary and meals served in a home.
Another 41% of the children said that they were victims of abuse due to staying home with parents who were also stressed up with the pandemic socio-economic pressure.
“This also resulted to increase in child labor in families and in work places, where some parents were forced to work with their children to earn a living,” Murwanashyaka said during a Mastercard Foundation-Young Africa Works talk show hosted on KTRadio this January 3, 2022.
Murwanashyaka also said that the research revealed many factors that have led to increase of child labor, school drop outs and called for action by engaging the private sector.
For instance, the research showed that 29% of children didn’t have access to online education during the pandemic, as a result of lack of radios or TV sets where the ministry of education and the Rwanda Education Board (REB) had shifted to conducting virtual classrooms during the strict lockdowns.
In this category, 10% of those who had access to online reading were not able to do so because of conflict of interest with parents who also wanted to use the available gadgets to watch games or another radio program.
“This resulted in an increase of school drop outs at 12% because if they could not eat, or study the children resorted to going on streets or doing hard labor to survive. That is why we see an increase in the number of street children,” Murwanashyaka said.
Though children were able to use the internet or phones to study, the research showed that 5% of the children reported cases of encountering online abuse, such as seduction by adults while 1% of girls got pregnant and got married to move out of pandemic challenges.
This was testified by 14 year old Jean Baptiste Shyaka, a children’s representative who said that COVID-19 has and remains a big threat to children and their education but mostly causing stress disorders due to fear of the virus and numbers of deaths.
“It is true many dropped out of school, declined in performance and lived in fear due to Covid-19 environment but some of us remained focused on studies to improve even when the pandemic remains a challenge for many children,” Shyaka said.
Cladho revealed that so far most of teens forced into marriage have been returned home, and 30 cases of child abuse are under prosecution.
Cladho said that research findings have resulted into each district signing an agreement to set up a task force to monitor children development and bring them off the streets and from child labor activities.
“There is a threat that Rwanda tea which sells on global markets may lose market because of reports of children working in tea plantations. That is why we want the private sector (PSF) to take lead in ending child labor because it is the business owners who hire children for cheap labor,” Murwanashyaka said.
Though the battle will not be easy, he further said that it is possible since some businesses have been fined in Karongi and other districts where there are high cases child labor.
Murwanashyaka said that this will succeed by working with children committees to get real time information on child labor because the adults tend to hide the information on child labor.