17 Years Later, Rwandan Children Feel Effects of Genocide

29/06/2011 - The lingering effects of the 1994 Rwandan genocide continue to be felt among the country's children, particularly the one million orphans and vulnerable children living in the country.

While the 100-day killing spree that was the Rwandan genocide has been over for about seventeen years. The consequences of the ethnic violence in the spring of 1994 are still confronting children in Rwanda today.

Between April and June of 1994, 800,000 Rwandans, most of whom were Tutsis, lost their lives in acts of ethnic cleansing perpetrated mostly by Hutus. The division between the two ethnic groups can be traced back for centuries. However, tensions intensified during the Belgian colonial period wherein a divide-and-rule strategy favoured the Tutsis for having more "Caucasian features."

Resentment built among the Hutus and these tensions boiled over several times, culminating in the 1994 genocide following the death of the Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana (a Hutu) , when his plane was shot down on 6 April 1994.

Dealing with aftermath of widespread participation in the genocide has proved challenging for orphans and vulnerable children from judicial, social and economic perspectives.

After the genocide, an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was set up to administer justice and deal with the truth and reconciliation of the divided Hutu and Tutsi population. The ICTR, designed to prosecute persons responsible for serious violations of international law during the genocide and reinforce peace in the region, has completed 88% of its casework at the trial level. It is scheduled to complete this work in 2012, said Judge Khalida Rachid Khan, President of the ICTR, to the UN Security Council earlier this month.

Rwanda has the highest prevalence of orphaned children and child-headed households in the entire world. The majority of the country's one million orphans lost their parents in the genocide. Other have lost their parents to AIDS or to the post-genocide judicial processes that have seen their parents imprisoned for life for participating in the atrocities. The country is home to an estimated 42,000 child-headed households raising 101,000 children.

The ICTR, an ad hoc tribunal, is similar to those set up in other cases of mass human rights abuses, such as the post-civil war Special Court for Sierra Leone and the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in south Africa.

Ensuring that children of people prosecuted by the ICTR do not suffer for the "sins of the father," so to speak, is important for the well-being of the children, who may also suffer from stigma, poverty and orphanhood.

According to the United Nations' (UN) Lessons from Rwanda, some 100,000-250,000 women were raped in the genocide. This sexual violence brought devastation to Rwanda on the large and small scales in the form of increased national HIV transmission as well as in the physical and psychological trauma suffered by the individual women and their families.

Though Rwandan AIDS orphans continue to face stigma in the schools and communities, the government has taken concrete steps to provide health services to children affected by HIV and AIDS. One of the biggest remaining challenges in the lack of accurate and complete data, particularly in hard-to-reach rural populations.

Still, as few as half of the children affected by AIDS are getting the help they need from government and non-governmental actors. Even fewer children are getting comprehensive support including food assistance, health care and education.