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Study on child rights and youth movements in Rwanda


By Dr.claude Shema Rutagengwa

Great lakes Peace Initiative



Bio Other articles in this series...

Transcend Africa Network: Report on Refugees


War and The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the Great- Lakes region of Africa 


International Migration and Development Revisited


Ghettoization or Globalization Of African Literature


Great Lakes Region of Africa - Burundi


Sudanese Internal Displaced People


Africa in the Face of the Development of Others


Rwanda: Conflict, Genocide and Post Genocide


Assistance, Bi-lateral Cooperation and Humanitarian Interventions


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Study on child rights and youth movements in Rwanda by Dr.claude Shema Rutagengwa


© Claude Rutagengwa 2006



In April each year, Rwanda commemorates the anniversary of the genocide that wiped out more than a million people and destroyed almost all the country’s socio-economic infrastructure. The depth of destruction, coupled with a structural lack of resources, explains the misery in which the Rwandan population continue to suffer, despite important and continuous efforts carried out to alleviate it. Thus, more than 60% of the Rwandan population lives on less than 1$ per day.

The youth, which officially in Rwanda consists of the population between 14 and 35 years old, is the most affected by the resulting socio-economic problems, while being the majority of the population: 57% of the Rwandan population is under 18 years of age and those between 14-35 are 36%.

At the national level, each one is in charge of the survival of several people. Thus 195.000 youth under 20 years of age are heads of households.

Although such a situation is not new, the high involvement of the population in genocide and massacres exacerbated it as the youth were manipulated to take a big part in them as spearheads of different militias. That is why special attention must be geared towards them at least for three main reasons:

this youth constitutes the majority of the population,

it is the poorest group in the society despite its heavy responsibilities,

improvement of youth living conditions is a prerequisite for the stabilization of the Rwandan society for a future sustainable peace and development.

It is quite difficult to gather and get any documented information on youth in Rwanda. Nevertheless there are some acknowledged material and statistical data, especially in areas where children below 18 are concerned. UNICEF is the prominent source of information about children, thanks to its publications: reports, research, and documentation on its activities in Rwanda. Of course UNICEF seems to be an institution for coordination of all activities related to children. But for other UN agencies there are few publications or reviews available about children situation. And as far as public institutions are concerned, no document or publication related to youth rights and youth movements have been found.

How to define the child/youth? Most stakeholders and actors in youth programmes combine both children and adults Youth (0-35 years) without distinction. Moreover, the impact of this combination is enormous in terms of responding effectively to the basic specific needs of specific categories (children like babies, and Youth like adult ).

Quite often case studies from NGOs and other stakeholders experience, categorise and divide youth programs into two separate sub programmes one for children (minor) and another one for adult youth because their needs are different. In Rwanda, strategies for promoting youth from 0-13 years old are under the ministry of administration and local government (MINALOC) and under the ministry of family and gender promotion (MIGEPROFE), while another group of youth age from 14 years old up to 35 is under the ministry of youth culture and sports (MIJESPOC). This is another gap and most of time leads to confusion.

After the 1990’s war and the 1994 genocide, some programmes and projects related to youth and child were carried out by different stakeholders: government, NGOs, IGOs, and local associations. Most of these projects or programmes were based on emergency needs of youth and children in the aftermath of genocide and massacres: emergency social support, reunification and family reintegration or other related projects.

Several important initiatives have been undertaken in order to promote youth representation and reinforce their participation in political and social decision-making.

In 1998, the youth elected their representation structures up to national level which establishes youth councils at all administrative level under a Youth National Council represented in the National Parliament elected by the youth.


Marital status

The majority of the youth interviewed (61%) are still single. 30% are married. Most young men marry at the age between 21 and 25 years (46%), while young women marry at a younger age: 51 % marry under the age of 20 years.

Considering that the legal minimum age of marriage in Rwanda is 21 years, it appears that many couples are "illegally married". They however consider themselves married and often have children.

Divorce is quite rare. Only 3 % of the interviewed declared divorced or in separation. One has to note that of these 26 cases 22 (85%) are women. It is therefore an indicator that it is easier for a man to remarry than for a woman, who also in general has children to look after.

It was observed that in 30 % of cases, the head of the household is a woman. The "head of household status" is diversely distributed trough ages, but the most important group (24%) had 50 years and above.

With 4,9 persons by household, the average is not very high. Singled households are very rare in Rwanda, certainly also because living alone is very expensive and the African tradition allows cohabitation of several generations. The majority (56%) of household members are above 18 years.



The situation of ownership of shelter is quite different between urban and rural areas. In urban areas 43% of households rent their house while only 3% do in rural areas.

Also 21% households in rural areas live in free houses for only 6% in urban areas. In rural areas surveyed, a big number of the population live in "imidugudu", grouped habitat provided graciously by the State or NGOs.

Expenses due to rents in towns is considerably high which leads to great mobility.

According to the number of people by household, in general a room is shared between 3 people, which is quite reasonable. A tiny number (0.7) of youth have a personal room.

In terms of equipment, there is a big difference between the rural and urban areas. Beds, tables and chairs are common in town, (73%) own a radio receiver, (35%) a television post and (31%) an iron. In rural areas, (44%) have a receiver and no electric tools, not only because of a small purchasing power but also because of lack of electricity.

77 % of the youth only move around on foot, although in town 10% go by Motor-Taxi and 11% by public transport buses.

For 78% urban households electricity is the source of energy. However, due to its cost and regular shortages, petrol is also relied on by 19%, while it is paramount (93%) in rural areas. 5% still use wood fire for light in rural areas.



For teenagers to emancipate and be confident, a certain economic autonomy is needed. A financial dependency at maturity should be exceptional. We therefore looked at the youth’s capacity of private property.

Generally speaking, the youth are very poor. Clothes are their almost only property (98%); 61% do not even own a mattress. However, 31% own a radio receiver among whom 53% live in town. 21 % own a small land which not negligible. 19% have a bank account and have sport and entertainment equipment.


Owning money is for a youth a sign of independence which important for his/her personality development.

It has been observed that 51% have no revenue and depend entirely on other family members, which render them easy targets of false promises, criminality and other lures for "easy money". The majority of these youth live in rural areas, most of them are women.

Considering one US$ per person per day as the poverty line, three youth out of four live under this line, with only 19% who can afford 1.8 US$ or more.

62% of youth get their money from their work while 15% get it from gifts from family members and other sources. 57% get their money from irregular sources, which makes expenses planning difficult if not impossible. Almost all the youth use their money for appearance (clothes, cosmetics,…), 40% spend it on drinks and 29% on training.



21% of the youth between 14 and 35 years are at school, secondary or higher and 79% are in principle available on the work market. Among the last, 38% say to have a regular job while 20% work occasionally. The remaining 42% stay at home and their main activity is helping at home, on the farm or running after a job, so that 62% of the available youth on the work market are unemployed or have occasional work.

The situation is quite problematic in rural areas, which is likely to lead to rural exodus. The majority of the youth with a job is over 25 years. Having a stable work takes a long time, therefore the necessity of a national policy for employment and economic development.

What are the conditions of economic success for a Rwandan youth? The "Top 20" with more than 25.000 FRw (54 US$) per month.

One must first live in town, only 2% of the group live in rural areas, and also be over 26 years with some experience (71%-65%) and at 65% a man.

Women are generally handicapped in the search of work, keeping in mind that many young girls marry under 20 years of age, which makes it difficult to combine running the household and a regular job. 68% of those with a regular job are men.

81% of those working regularly are employed (68% by the civil service) while only 16% are self-employed. They seem to prefer the relative security to uncertain opportunities.

The civil service and state owned establishments are advantageous on several grounds: contract, health insurance, work regulations that care for the well being of collaborators and regularly paid salaries.

On the other hand, the private sector does not provide such facilities, where only 15% have health insurance. Except NGOs that give a good salary, the state even pays better than the private sector, where more than a half live under the one US$ poverty line.

Once again the divide between urban and rural areas is apparent when even the women with a regular work live under the poverty line with less than 500 FRw per day.

Concerning child labour, the situation is rather favourable. 79% of boys and 89% of girls began a remunerated job between 19 and 22 years of age. Less than 1% mentioned having started work below 14 years. However, one should mention that work done for the household (fetching water and firewood, taking care of smaller children, farm work and most sensible housekeeping) was not taken into account.



Years of instability, war and famine obliged the population to leave their homes and property and move to other places. Such a situation of uncertainty is a jeopardising factor for a sustainable development. The study aims at measuring the level at which the youth have been affected during these eleven years.

Results surprisingly showed that the important mobility was mainly local. Although only 54% said to have lived in the same zone since 1990, 86% have gone beyond their province. Considering the massive movements by the population as a result of genocide and its consequences, it was surprising to find that only 4% have lived outside the country. This could be explained by at least two factors:

Genocide victims that could run from Rwanda quickly returned and therefore consider the episode too short to say they lived where they were;

Active participants in the genocide stayed longer and were not present during the survey.



21% of the interviewed have been at school among whom 61% are from urban areas. While boys and girls go equally to primary school, this is different after the secondary school where only 28% are girls, from which one could conclude that Rwandan parents prefer boys when it is about investing for the future.

The number of youth with a university degree is very low (0.6%). The main reason for not going further the secondary school is the lack of financial means (46%) and not enough performance (13%).

In Rwanda, professional training follows the like as:

Training at home notably cooking, caring for young children, farm work;

Informal training in small enterprises and workshops; for this on the job training there is no standards nor regulations;

Non-formal training in youth training centres, some public and others private registered. These offer 4 or 5 professional trainings: masonry, carpentry, soldering for young men, cooking and tailoring for women. To be admitted into these one has to have accomplished primary school.

Formal professional training in Official Technical Schools for those who have senior level of education and are trained into and practice several professions.

Among the youth no longer at school (79%), whether they have finished, abandoned or never have been and potentially available on the work market, only 25% have a professional training such that three quarters of Rwandan youth have little chance of succeeding professionally. 93% of the youth no longer at school have not been reached by professional training which need some standard of quality. Girls benefit even less (13% in OTS and 27% in YTC). The need to improve the professional training is evident.

Food and health

Access to drinking water and enough decent food are basic needs. In this regards, there is a big difference between rural and urban areas. 60% of urban youth have access to water supplied by "Electrogaz", a public company and less than 1% uses stagnant water, while in rural areas 48% use river water and 23% stagnant water. Water supply is insufficient and its transport very difficult. The bad quality of water causes different diseases and parasites that result into a high level of infant mortality.

Four from five eat once or twice a day a hot meal more in rural areas than in towns. 63% have meat, an important source of protein, at least once a month and 29% rarely.

Malaria is the main cause of morbidity. Generally, when sick they go to the doctor even in rural areas where although at long distances, health centres are still accessible. The population is quite trusting to modern medicine.

3 out of 4 youth are aware that one sexual unprotected intercourse can be enough to be infected by HIV/AIDS whether in towns or in rural areas. It remains worrisome though that 47% still believe that they can know an infected person only by looking at him/her. 58% did not know that the virus does not affect the infected person’s well being in its first phase while 21 % believed that AIDS can be cured today and even 46% believed that it can be transmitted by insects. 49% believed that the condom is not a 100% a guaranty of security and 46% of females considered it a male’s affair. 89% of the 93% who know about the condom considered it affordable.


We observed that the majority of youth above 14 years do not go to school nor have an employment. This does not mean they have much free time. The main free day is Sunday (89%) and Saturday (55%). The free time is spent mainly in visits to friends 67%, home duties 52%, 33 and 24 % for reading and sport, 24% in religious activities. Other entertainment like going out in evenings, video viewing and music is less important for lack of interest or means. A minority spend its free time in associative activities. Sport is a regular practice for only 17% and occasional for 18% and remains a boy/man activity (26% men and 8 % girls). Football appears the most practiced sport.

It is remarkable that 45% females spend their free time alone compared to 27% males and more so in rural areas which could hinder their mobilisation for useful leisure.


Youth rights

At the top of what they think is their rights there is the right to heritage of their parents’ property (19%); this shows not only Rwandans’ attachment to land but also some sense of insecurity for the future. The right to professional training comes second (15%) which highlights the importance they attach to qualification for the future. The youth have confidence in the judicial system, which could be the result of good governance and Gacaca jurisdictions in relation to genocide trials. The right to live in a secure environment is also important, showing the youth’s aspirations for political stability.

Youth in associations

The analysis study based on questionnaires provided, and interviews with relevant personality, shows that 85% of youth in Rwanda are members of youth association. The percentage of females is of 46%, male 54%. But youth active members within association are only 20%, while the number of non-adherent youth to any association is about 1,5%. The period of being active in association for youth is between 12 month-8 years for those who joined the association at the age between 14-18 years, while the period of being active in association to another category of youth is between 12 months- 5 years.


There are also cases of ghost members who do not contribute or participate in any activity of association. The major reasons for members to giving up from youth association are:

-Lack of motivation

-Limitation of the youth age (not beyond 35)






The 1994 genocide has and shall continue to affect the Rwandan youth for a long time. 68% have lost at least one family member. 49% of the victims do not know where their relatives are buried, which is a cause for a long time trauma. 69 % revealed that children in the near neighbourhood have a problem of traumatism (74% in town and 64% in rural areas). Almost a half of the youth, 46% experienced a trauma problem, among them 49% being girls, most of all because the majority of survivors are females.

Effects of traumatism are lived by 35 % of households where some members experience traumatic events they were confronted to during genocide. This remains a great concern, as "counselling" centres are still scarce in the country while the demand is important.

(Source: Etre jeune au Rwanda-Enquête sur la situation des jeunes. Ministère de la Jeunesse, des Sports et de la Culture/GTZ, Kigali 2003)



When we look at this tool for "age and interpretations"(invented by Dr. Claude Shema Rutagengwa) the study finds that there are complexity and confusion in definitions from one category to another. However, we agree on a clear distinction between "childhood" and adulthood"! This is due to the long interval between those two different circles of ages (about 35 years). But for the case of some connotations like "adolescence and youth" it is quite difficult to separate those two circles because of their interlinks. When looking at "Adulthood" in Rwanda and in many other countries in Africa, the upper age limit for youth is 35, while UN upper age limit is 24. Therefore, in this context the stakeholders in promoting youth should concentrate effort on specific needs for each category.

The definition of youth in the Rwandan context remains unclear, but the study tried to show that it is the age between 00-35 years according to the answers based on questionnaires and interviews!


Looking on the interpretations in Rwanda, there is a gap between the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence age. Especially ate the age of 14,15,16,and 17 years. This category of young people seems not to be classified within youth nor children ("no longer children, not yet youth). Other gaps also have been found in other categories (in junction of cycle 2-3, the same to 3-4 of the above tool).



It follows that most stakeholders and actors in youth programmes combine both children and adults Youth (0-35 years) without distinction. Moreover, the impact of this combination is enormous in terms of responding effectively to the basic specific needs of 2 different categories (children like babies, and adult Youth). Quite often case studies from NGO,s and other stakeholders experience usually categorise and divide youth programs into two separate sub programmes one for children (minor) and another for one for adult Youth because their needs are different.



In spite of lack of information regarding to youth movements in Rwanda, where the information data might have been destroyed during the wars and 1994 genocide and massacres, even after 1994 things seem to be the same, no information data regarding youth is available. But there is a will, and the stakeholders including the government are willing to move forward for youth development.


Text Box: In Rwanda, the child  and youth policy doesn’t exist yet!






But there are some steps towards these precious papers:

- Ongoing first draft of Rwanda youth policy designed by an expert (Arthur Gilletle)*

- The child policy for orphans and other vulnerable children has been done.

However, there is no common youth policy in Rwanda. But just a "component " of a national child policy called "National child policy for orphans and other vulnerable children."

This should be the pathway to a final and common child policy comprising "all children" not "orphans and vulnerable children" only. Both final child policy and youth policy would be the solution to ages of confusions of child and youth definitions.

However, through the ministry of youth, the government of Rwanda hired an expert to design the national youth policy responding to UN 10 steps of national youth policy formulation, in reference to the World Programme of Action for youth (WPAY) for the year 2000 and beyond. And as mentioned before, the inclusion and high participation of youth in all grassroots entities of the government, seems to be a genuine response to the UN agenda for youth. This has been stipulated in UN youth agenda called: "The world Programmes of Action for youth in the year 2000 and beyond – WPAY", especially in "the full and effective participation of youth in the life of society and in decision making". Such as the effective participation and integration of youth associations in implementation of all projects in terms if labour, in order to benefit from the income generated by HIMO projects, and on the other hand, the RSSP that should be focusing on youth associations especially in rural areas.


The Rwanda national Youth Council as a government institution is the unique umbrella of youth organizations. And every single youth association must proceed through this "political" youth entity before starting any activity, and must be registered at the ministry of justice or the ministry of local government or the ministry of youth.



National/General assemblee

(National level)

Board of directors

Board of trustees

Permanent secretariat

Board of conselors

Financial advisory board

          Regional/Provincial  assembly

(Provincial level)

Board of consellors

              Regional/Provincial comitee

Financial advisory team

                        Regional secretariat


(District /sector level)






















Youth in decision making and good governance (in figures)


Top decision making entities/Institutions

= Parliament



District Municipality


National women council




National youth council











Level 4

                                                                                                                            Level 3

                                                                                                                            Level 2

                                                                                                                            Level 1




* Soj : Structure organisationnelle des jeunes (12 youth representatives )

* Sof  : Structure organisationnelle des femmes

*Cell  : Smaller administrative unit.

Comments on the structure and on youth movments and youth rights in general:

The participation of women in all decision-making has been defined as 30% as of Beijing women conference! But for youth, there is yet to be a defined percentage in participation in decision making entities. Do they (youth) need another Beijing for them?

The youth and women are represented at all levels of government from the smallest administrative unit called "cellule"(bottom-down) up to the parliament level (up), level 1 to level 4 (province) and in parliament. But they are not represented in the ministries. From this, they do participate in the good governance implementation process like other leaders.

In Rwanda,youth associations are under strong control by governement,and youth associations complain abouth forced affiliation with youth structures and being under NYC/National youth council which is totaly a government institution created by youth,but latere on taken by goverment.Youth in Rwanda perceive this matter as a dictatorship,and they do not have independency in their rights.The same as women associations.Do they need freedom from governement?yes,and it will help in youth freedom and liberty.