Combatting dependency and promoting child protection in Rwanda

Saeed Rahman, Simran Chaudhri, Lindsay Stark and Mark Canaver -- Forced Migration Review

According to this article from Forced Migration Review, when the majority of aid comes from external sources, it can cause those who receive the aid to feel powerless.  External aid, along with the stress of protracted displacement can force changes in family structures and caregiving practices, thus threatening the family structure.  In the most extreme cases, researchers found that parents may leave the family or a child, rationalising that the children would be better off without the parent or on their own.

This article focuses on the Gihembe camp in Rwanda, which houses approximately 14,000 refugees.  The article states that almost half the residents of the camp are under 18, and many hail from Democratic Republic of Congo.  This article discusses a study in the camp that was taken in 2013. The study noted in this article states that aid from external sources has the potential to undermine the family and community based initiatives that are meant to protect children.

Researchers asked residents about the impact the lack of livelihoods options has had on relationships and roles within the family in child protection, and how these relationships and roles are perceived. According to the study, “parents feel unable to provide for their family’s basic needs – food, clothing, shelter, education – and children witness this disempowerment.” Per this article, children face many threats to their well-being, including pregnancy, delinquency, and lack of education.

The researchers identified several community-initiated resources used in the camp.  These resources were similar to those that the residents used in their home country.  Researches noted a “general perception” that the programs in the camp were weaker than those in DRC. While these programs were viewed positively by both adults and adolescents, leaders found that they lacked material and support necessary to be effective.

Overall, the researchers found that long-term support from external sources had negative impacts on the camp.  When external funding dries up, it has a strong negative effect on the resilience of the camp.  External funding effects parent-child relationship in that the child looks to the NGO instead of the parent for support.  Lastly, the article points out that a community that depends on funding from others has little leverage, therefore leaving them with a sense of disempowerment.

The article recommends that organisations provide programs that help families and children and endeavor to avoid side-stepping families by focusing directly on children.