War, Conflict, Rehabilitation and Children's Rights in Rwanda

Angela Veale


The Graca Machel United Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children (1996) documents the pervasive effects of war on all aspects of children's lives. Over the past 10 years, an estimated 2 million children have been killed in armed conflict. A further 4 to 5 million others have incurred serious injuries, including injury from landmines. Twelve million have been made homeless either internally in their country of origin or as refugees and over a million have been rendered unaccompanied as a result of separation from parents (UNICEF, 1996, in Orordudu, 1998). Alarming as these figures are they do not reflect on the normative disruption experienced by children as a result of increased poverty, the disruption in social services like education, and the fragmentation of their social networks due to death or exile.

The Machel study establishes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as the guiding framework for policy and practice with respect to children in conflict and post-conflict situations. The Convention extends a generalised commitment undertaken in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the "special safeguard and care" of children on the grounds of their "physical and mental immaturity". The justification for a specific human rights tool for children lies in assumptions about the special characteristics of childhood. The preamble of the Convention makes reference to the period of childhood as entitling the holders to special protection. Specific attributes of childhood such as immaturity, the human being-in development and the dependence of children on societal institutions such as the family are assumed to characterise childhood globally.

However, there are inevitable tensions between an international tool that aims to make universal claims on behalf of all children, and such a tool being sufficiently meaningful to the localised experiences of children across the globe. While the Convention has been praised for its use of language that allows for constructive ambiguity (Saks, 1996), it has also been challenged as inadequate because of this abstractness when applied to local situations (Alston, 1994) and its conceptual basis in a Western philosophy of liberal individualism (Burman, 1996). Particular concerns have been expressed about the inherent cultural insensitivity of a document which aims simultaneously to be universal while being applicable in specific cultural contexts with different views of the best interests of the child (Murphy-Berman, et al., 1996). For practitioners and policymakers working in diverse cultural settings, the core challenge presented by the Convention is how it can be used as a tool to inform and shape policy which is relevant to the specific experiences of children in their local contexts.

Burman (1996) puts the question succinctly when she notes: "The discourse of rights necessarily invokes general claims...But how well do general statements about children map onto the conditions and positions of children in local contexts?" (Burman, 1996, p.46). With respect to children in war and conflict, UNICEF estimates that 80-90% of casualties in conflict are civilians (UNICEF, 1996). In some instances, such as in Rwanda, children have been involved both as victims and perpetrators of violence (African Rights, 1995, p.891). This paper reflects on the Convention as a tool to protect and promote children's rights in both situations of conflict and rehabilitation.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child

To date, 191 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, making it the most widely accepted human rights instrument in the world. In all 64 nations participated in the drafting of the Convention over a ten year period. However, not all nations were equally active in the drafting process and there was considerable homogeneity in the composition of the core group (Okorodudu, 1998). According to Murphy-Berman et al., the major contributors consisted of Western nations, the US and the former USSR. Only 2 Latin American countries, 2 Asian countries, and 3 African countries participated in all nine drafting sessions of the Convention (p.1996, p.1257). Rather paradoxically, given its position in the core group of drafting nations, the USA is one of the remaining two UN members not to have ratified the Convention to date, Somalia being the other (Okordudu, 1998).

Adopted by the UN in 1989, the Convention is based on a set of global principles of what is considered good for children. The underlying principles of the Convention have been summarised as the three 'P's: protection from harm, provision of adequate standards for children's survival and development, and participation in matters affecting their lives (Cantwell, 1992). Asserting that the primary unit of analysis in the implementation of the Convention articles is the individual child, a core principle of the Convention is that "In all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration" (Article 3). The implication of this is that it renders the rights of the child divisible from that of collective groupings in which the child participates, such as the family, kinship or community.

Some specific considerations of the Convention with respect to Rwanda

Rwanda was an early signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and ratified it in 1990. It is interesting to examine the broad relationship between principles of the Convention, which stress individual independence and autonomy and the positioning of the child in Rwandan culture. The focus on the child as the unit of analysis becomes especially interesting when viewed with respect to traditional culture in Rwanda and in the changing socio-politico place of children in this society in the aftermath of the genocide.

According to Demascene (1999), in traditional Rwandan society, the family and extended kinship system rather than the individual is the primary unit of social organisation. The foundation stone of this system lies in marriage, which is not merely a contract between an individual man and woman but is principally an alliance between two families. Rwanda is a paternalistic society and the final responsibility for the family well being lies with male members of the family. However maternal relatives play an important role in the life of the family and the identity of the child is expressed with reference to the collective rather than personal identity. This issue of identity is expressed by Demaseene as "Bref, l'enfant est le prolongement de la vie des parents, du nom du clan" (the child prolongs the life of his/her parents and the name of their clan). This is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of identity embodied in the Convention which is based on a notion of identity as inherent in the individual personality (Cohen, 1992 in Burmari, 1996).

Research undertaken in a rural community in Rwanda to examine social support within communities for vulnerable children highlighted the interrelatedness of identity in Rwanda.' Interview responses highlighted the reciprocal duties and obligations that are perceived to exist between adults and children. Children recognised the role of children in offering support in their communities. For example, children described a drawing of an old woman as sad because "She has nothing to eat and lives alone, and she has no child to help her". When asked about child headed households the children said that "their relatives help them, and if there is among the orphans an older child, he/she goes and help the relatives in their borne duties in return".

This view is enshrined in legal codes in Rwanda. Article 200 of Act Number 42/1988 states that "The obligation to provide food exists between spouses; it also exists between father and mother, on the one hand, and their children, on the other, and vice versa. Children must also feed their ascendants if they are in need. This obligation is reciprocal" (italics added). The child therefore is positioned as existing in a relational web of reciprocal responsibilities and obligations.

This example of relational structures in Rwanda presents a challenge to the Convention, which stresses rights rather than duties. Inherent in the Convention's approach is an assumption that there is a uni-directional responsibility for provision and protection from adults to a dependent child. However, Rwandan society is itself challenged regarding the role and responsibilities of children in families and communities in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. As a result of the genocide and conflict immediate and extended family networks have been destroyed or fragmented due to the death, displacement, exile and imprisonment of various members.

The facts of the genocide are well known. Over the period April to July 1994 about one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. The victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front heralded the return of almost one million Rwandan Tutsi diaspora. In addition, in 1994 almost 2 million people left Rwanda as refugees. In late 1996, the country witnessed the massive forced repatriation of over one million of these refugees. This has resulted in significant socio-demographic changes.

As a result of these experiences, female headed families now account for one third of all households, compared to a quarter in pre-genocide times. In addition, 100,000 Rwandan children have been registered as unaccompanied in the Great Lakes region. Of these, 60,000 have been formally reunited with their family or extended family. The remaining children have been absorbed into informal family or community arrangements. It is estimated that the numbers of spontaneously fostered ehildren significantly exceeds that of children formally registered as unaccompanied. A World Vision study reports that there are at least 40,000 child headed families, comprising 4 to 5 children per household. The majority of these households are headed by a female child (World Vision, 1998). Given the high birth rate in the period since the genocide, children and adolescents currently comprise over half of the country's 8.1 million people.2

The implication of these socio-demographic changes is that the social web in which children were traditionally enmeshed has been altered, fragmented and reconstituted for many children over a very short period. For some children, such as those forced to live in sibling groups in child headed households, family structures have ceased to exist altogether. Tens of thousands of children live outside their family of origin, in extended families or in substitute family care. For unrelated children in new nuclear families, their identity to their extended family is sometimes unacknowledged in terms of broadening the inclusiveness of support available to them, as it would be to natural born children. Yet many children are also living outside such structures and end up on the street.

All this means that suddenly the individual unit of analysis, the child, is presenting enormous challenges to Rwanda's societal and legal structures. Thus the indivisibility of the child-famiiy- community unit has been altered as a result of conflict and its aftermath. The fabric of Rwandan society has changed and suddenly this tension between the collective and the individual at the heart of the Convention is played out within Rwandan communities.

The following section examines some of the articles of the Convention with respect to Rwandan children. It is not an exhaustive analysis of these. Rather it is a reflection of the implications of some articles of the Convention in the particular context of Rwanda. The articles examined deal with the definition of what constitutes a child under the Convention, issues relating to name and nationality, issues covering family, psychological recovery and social reintegration, freedom of expression and participation as well as refugee children.

How does the Convention address the rights of Rwandan children?

Definition of a child under the Convention

Article 1 of the Convention stipulates a child is any individual below 18 years of age. The issue of the beginning and end of childhood with its related implications about child responsibility has been much debated in Rwanda as children were brought to trial as active participants in the genocide. Save the Children Fund (SCF) USA in conjunction with Trocaire undertook research to explore various local views of childhood in order to compare these with international legal definitions. Researchers asked the question of adults: When can one say a child is no longer a child? Markers of the end of childhood included entering into mature sexual relations, behavioural independence and financial autonomy. According to the report "a child was someone who, regardless of their age, was still financially dependent on or under the authority of their parents. In some cases, a person could cease to be considered a child the moment she/he began earning their own living" (p.5). Haguruka (1996), in a similar study found "as far as young boys and young girls lived under the domination of their parents, they were considered as children". Economic and behavioural considerations, rather than a fixed age, marked the movement from childhood to adulthood. This behavioural dimension of childhood is captured in Rwandan law which recognises the right to a survival allowance for "children who are less than 25 years who are still attending school" (italics not in original; Art. 33 of Exec. Order, Aug 22, J. O. 1994 in Haguruku, 1996).

The Convention makes a contribution to the promotion of child protection issues in so far as behavioural independence gives no indication of children's developmental capacity. For example, children in child headed households have been forced to shoulder enormous levels of responsibility inappropriate to their developmental capacities as children, and in most cases with little support from relatives or neighbours (World Vision, 1998).

On the other hand, a lack of recognition of the interaction between developmental tasks, age and behavioural independence has resulted in the implementation of policies that have been flawed in their conceptualisation. For example, an initiative by the Rwandan Government which sought to return adolescent street children to dependent positions by placing them in institutions or families was resented by many youth. Many had left positions of dependency in their family of origin or in a substitute family, and were actively seeking to become independent. Thus utilising a strict criterion of age to define childhood rather than a consideration of the developmentally appropriate strategies caused great difficulty in implementing this policy.

A key lesson from the experience of Rwanda, which is similar to many conflict and post-conflict environments, is that the specific needs of adolescents are generally overlooked in policy and intervention (Machel, 1996). In Rwanda, evidence that adolescents, and in particular adolescent males, experience particular integration difficulties is evident from two sources. Firstly, in the movement of unaccompanied minors from children's institutions to the community, adolescent males are one of the most difficult groups to foster and therefore end up in long term institutional care due to the lack of identified alternative mechanisms of care. Secondly, among the street child population, 47% of street children are aged 15 years and older, and the vast majority of these are boys (Veale ct al., 1998). Reasons suggested for the difficulties experienced by adolescent boys include conflict and jealousy around inheritance rights, particularly in reconstituted families. The right of the eldest male child to paternal inheritance becomes a critical issue in families with a new step-parent or for orphaned children in a family other than their family of origin. Other reasons include the difficulty for boys in assuming a dependent position in a new family structure, difficulty with step-parents and a lack of desire for ties with community of origin as a result of events during the genocide. (Veale, Dona, Murmutsa et al., 1998).

Name and nationality

The Convention asserts the right of all children to a name and nationality, and undertakes to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including "nationality, name and family relations" (Art. 7& 8). It makes no mention of ethnicity. In Rwanda, as in many African countries, ethnicity is a cornerstone of identity. Belambago (1994), writing on the best interests of the child in Burkina Faso said: "Belonging to an ethnic group appears to be a right and a duty. ...It is a right in the sense that an individual from an ethnic group benefits from the protection and solidarity of all its members in a confrontation with another group (p.206).

Summerfield (1999) has noted that in Rwanda there have been cases where programmes which have failed to be sensitive to the issue of ethnicity and caused significant distress to children by placing them in the care of staff from another ethnic group. This was not obvious to the foreign practitioners but it was of relevance to the children. In Rwanda, the issue of ethnicity in policy and practice with respect to children is obviously highly complex.

Government policy is to ban ethnicity in government related programmes and to stress a collective nationalistic policy of "We are all Rwandans". Yet arguably, there are instances where ethnicity is central to both policy and practice. For example, ethnicity is considered in fostering policy in the matching of children with foster parents. Moreover, ethnic identity is frequently an influencing factor in practice although this is not acknowledged. Hence, the issue of how to acknowledge ethnie identity as an integral part of individual identity where this is relevant (e.g. in terms of community development, social education programmes in the education system) needs to be tackled. The alternative route is to view ethnicity solely as a divisive factor and to ignore it as something which is "too uncomfortable" within analyses of social policy and practice.

Articles relating to the family

In all, six articles of the Convention relate to the family. These can be summarised as:

  • Art. 5 Parental guidance and the child's evolving capacities
  • Art. 8 Preservation of identity and family relations
  • Art. 9 Separation from parents
  • Art. 10 Family reunification
  • Art 18 Parental responsibilities
  • Art. 19 Protection from abuse and neglect


The Convention asserts the child's right to a family environment and avoids the specification of a particular family structure. This is particularly meaningful for Rwanda where few structures have remained unchanged as a result of the genocide and nearly all families have lost or gained new members. The impact of the genocide in rendering children vulnerable through changes in family structure was highlighted in a series of community workshops asking children and adults to identify vulnerable categories of children in the community (Veale et al., 1999).

Participants interviewed ranked various categories of vulnerable children as follows: child headed households with a parent in prison and the other parent dead; orphans in child headed households; orphans and fostered children in non-families of origin; and children with one surviving parent.

Table 1: Responses on child vulnerability

Table 1: Responses on child vulnerabilityTable 1: Responses on child vulnerability

The impact of the death, exile, and imprisonment on family structures has been to tear apart the fabric of children's primary social relations. As noted in Table 1, child headed households, which are usually sibling groups in which the head of household is the eldest adolescent, experience threats to fundamental rights such as the right to their survival and development (Article 6), because of the lack of primary adult relationships. In Rwanda, three- quarters of child headed households are headed by girls (World Vision, 1998). This vulnerable group have further claims to a right to special protection under the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict.

A revelation in this research was the view of community members that child headed households with a parent in prison were the most vulnerable group of children in the community. In Rwanda, over 100,000 individuals are in prison or detention and the majority of these are males held on charges of genocide. As outlined in Table 1, children have an ongoing responsibility to provide food to a parent in prison but they receive no access to their detained parent. The ability or inability to provide food to a jailed parent becomes an expression of love and an attempt by the child to exert a continued relationship. Therefore the parent- child relationship exerts significant costs on the child but for no return, as the relationship is effectively non-functioning.

Separation as a result of detention is an instance of involuntary separation of children from parents. Article 9 of the Convention recognises certain duties of the state "when separation results in any action initiated by a state party, such as detention, imprisonment, exile, deportation, death". This is limited to providing information about the whereabouts of the absent member. There is no obligation on the state to support the relationship between a parent and child through a system of visiting rights or the establishment of some form of communication channel. However this is something that could be advocated for in policy or practice.

It is also interesting to examine more closely the Convention's assertion of the child's right to a family environment. In individual articles, there is a strong focus on the unit of child-parent or child- legal guardian. Articles for the protection of a child without a family (Art. 20) and on the care of unaccompanied refugee children (Art. 22) call for the establishment of such a relationship through the provision of appropriate alternative family care or institutional placement, or adoption (Art.21). This may not always be appropriate such as in situations where sibling groups do not want to be separated. The needs of such groups are nowhere explicitly addressed. The spirit of the Convention creates a challenge for practitioners and policy makers to reflect on how such child-adult protective relationships can be promoted within communities while respecting the integrity of the adult-less family grouping.

Ensuring children's rights to a family environment is particularly relevant in conflict and post-confliet contexts where there tends to be an increased incidence of the voluntary circulation of children between their family of origin and other families as a crisis coping response. In Rwanda, for example, our research indicated that children are sometimes loaned to members of the extended family such as old people who have no child to look after them. Orphaned children are absorbed by a family and may circulate through different households over time in a process of burden sharing. Children appear to spontaneously move from their homes to the homes of relatives or neighbours if maltreated or in times of crisis. This circulation of children is frequently little understood by agencies. In the spirit of the Convention, it arguably remains a hidden issue as a result of the strong focus on the child-parent/legal guardian relationship. The transfer of obligations for children between families in communities highlights that, in post-conflict environments, the role of the broader community becomes especially significant. This notion of guardianship (which, in practice, could be a collective undertaking in a community) over ownership (which is usually restricted to a core primary relationship) is of direct relevance to policy and practice where the role of extended networks and communities in supporting children is increasingly being examined.

Recovery, social reintegration and psychological rehabilitation

Article 39 of me Convention asserts that "state parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of armed conflict".

Psychological recovery

In Rwanda, as in many conflict situations, those at the front line of the violence were often civilians. In the Rwandan case conflict affected 153 of the country's 154 communes. A UNICEF survey of 3,030 children found that 96% of children had witnessed violence, 70% had witnessed killings or wounding, 62% were threatened with death, 91% thought they were going to die, 58% witnessed killing or wounding with a machete, 31% witnessed rape or other violent sexual crimes, and 87% saw corpses or body parts (UNICEF, 1996).

The extent of traumatic events reportedly experienced by children in this survey is very high even compared to other contexts where children have been directly targeted in civil conflicts. For instance, in Mozambique 20% of 7-12 year olds and 35% of 13-17 year olds witnessed or knew someone who had been murdered (McCallin, 1991). Such findings highlight the urgency of giving significant attention to Rwandan children's psychosocial needs and to their psychological recovery.

Within programme responses addressing psychological recovery in war affected contexts, there has been an increasing tendency to frame individual experience within a trauma discourse. For example, there have been attempts to develop international guidelines for trauma work, promoting it as a methodology that can be transported to all corners of the world (Joshi, 1998), In Rwanda, UNICEF established a National Trauma Centre in Kigali to provide intensive therapy for severely traumatised children, and to train trauma advisors within social and education systems. By early 1996, over 6,000 trauma advisors had been trained in trauma alleviation methods and had assisted an estimated 150,000 children.

Trauma approaches have come in for increasing criticism. With its origins in Western psychology, there is an inherent assumption in trauma approaches that situates psychological damage within the individual. There is a serious danger that separating individual psychological functioning from collective experience within the broader social, cultural and political context may result in stigmatising individuals experiencing difficulties. In Rwanda, for example, to be identified as a trauma sufferer brings with it social shame. Another implication of the trauma discourse is that it dichotomises the traumatised individual from those who would provide a trauma recovery cure. Summerfield (1999) makes this point and cautions against privileging certain forms of knowledge such as psychological knowledge that creates "experts" and devalues local knowledge as it emerges in everyday social and community relations.

More fundamentally still, Martin-Baro argues that in war, it is not individuals who are traumatised but a collective society. Summerfield (1997) points out that in modern conflict situations atrocities such as systematic rape and the deliberate mutilation of children have been used as a means of attacking not just the individuals involved but the wider social relations in which they participate. In Rwanda, violence during the genocide violated not just the individuals directly targeted but broader systems of identity and social relations within communities. Therefore children's psychological recovery is best addressed through the relationships which support the child, and the meaning carried in those relationships, such as acceptance, belonging, safety and trust. And it is these relationships which form the contexts in which children construct and interpret the events they have experienced.

Our research with Rwandan children to examine the psychosocial difficulties they experienced did not elicit calls for trauma intervention. In terms of psychological recovery, children identified needs around practical activities such as dealing with poverty and lack of food, adult guidance in social learning skills, for example, cultivation and domestic and care related tasks, education, and support in handling conflict within their families, between their families and neighbours, and with their peers during play. The findings of this research fit well with the recommendations made in the Machel report that psychosocial work should avoid the development of separate mental health programmes, should aim to re-establish a sense of normality, should be situated in political and social realities and should mobilise community care networks around children (Machel, 1996, p 53).

Freedom of expression and participation

The participation articles of the Convention have been hailed as one of its defining features as they recognise the rights of children as full citizens. The Convention asserts the child's right to express his or her opinion and to have that opinion taken into account in any matter affecting the child (Article 12). Initially seen as revolutionary, in practice the participation articles may carry little weight when situated with respect to the principle of the child's best interests, for who is to decide what is in the child's best interests? Within all societies, power is structured according to culturally recognised lines. In almost all, if not all societies, children exert the least power. In Rwanda, power is hierarchically and patriarchically constructed and in communities and local authorities men exert more influence that women and children. In some cases, practices initiated by the government and justified in terms of the Convention have been experienced as punitive by some children and contrary to their wishes. An example is the repeated round-ups of street children by the police and placing them in short or medium term institutional care.

Another issue where the participation articles have relevance is with respect to fostering policy, particularly in situations where concern is expressed about a child's welfare after placement in a family. In practice, there may be tension between encouraging a child's explicit participation in decision-making about remaining or being removed from a family, and the child's best interests. Children are in a vulnerable position with respect to the family. Formal expression of a desire to leave a family may create further difficulties for the child if there is no alternative provision available that is also acceptable to the child. Participation therefore presents many challenges in its implementation.

Children in Prison

Article 37 of the Convention addresses deprivation of liberty and Article 40 deals with the administration of juvenile justice. In Rwanda at present there are 4,401 minors in detention. Of these 3,338 are in prisons and 1,063 are in detention centres or cachots awating trial (figures presented to UNICEF Child Protection Meeting, Rwanda, 1999). Wliile the figures for the breakdown of the offences of these 4,401 minors are not mentioned, in 1997, the predominant charge against minors in detention was genocide (Matthes, 1997). The issue of minors as perpetrators of genocide has raised emotive discussion in communities with some voices calling for sentences similar to adult sentences to be imposed for those found guilty (Save the Children, USA 1995). Article 37 of the Convention states "neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age".

Refugee children

Refugee children receive explicit mention in the Convention (Article 22). In exceptional cases, there is concern that the rights of refugee children to special care and protection may be manipulated by adults who indirectly benefit from the presence of refugee children in their midst and from the obligation of service agencies to provide for them. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a group of Rwandan refugee children have been subjected to intensive negative propaganda about the dangers of returning to Rwanda as their repatriation will have negative consequences for certain groups within the refugee camp. This has resulted in children's refusal to be repatriated even though extended families of children have been traced within their country of origin (UNHCR, Kinshasa, 1999).


Worldwide in 1998 there were 27 major armed conflicts and numerous smaller conflicts elsewhere.3 Children are among these conflicts' most tragic victims. Given this scenario, what insights can be gained from the Rwandan experience with respect to the Convention as a tool to protect and promote children's rights in conflict and post conflict situations?

Firstly, the most fundamental effect of war and conflict on children is the loss, fragmentation and reconstitution of their social world and frequently, their place within that world. The importance of community as the first resource for addressing, protecting and promoting children's rights is primary to children's psychological recovery and physical and developmental well being. In the aftermath of war, children's best interests cannot be conceptualised as situated within an individual entity, the child, but are fundamentally tied up in the collective psychological and social recovery of the community and its culture.

Recognising this, however, the preamble of the Convention contains a challenge for policymakers and practitioners in its assertion of the right of the child to live "an individual life in society". While much criticised as a global imposition of Western views of childhood (Burman, 1996), the Convention has much to offer in conflict situations where many categories of children are catapulted out of their normal social systems of family and community. Child heads of households, fostered children and children placed in extended or substitute families, children in unaccompanied children's centres or detention and street children have become individuated and have to find new ways of existing in unfamiliar settings, with new roles and survival demands. The Convention asserts the right of the child as an individual to survival, support and protection in these complex and changing environments. A child-headed sibling group, for example, in the absence of parental relations, is in critical need of adult relationships through which cultural and social skills and knowledge can be transferred and imparted.

The relational world of children challenges our unit of analysis as either the child or the community. It is more appropriate to look at people as participating in a community of practice in which rights, obligations and support are realised through the everyday activities in which children and adults participate (Lave and Wenger, 1991). This has very concrete implications for policy and practice. One of the most fundamental features of post-conflict societies is that social networks and supports, damaged by the impact of violence, are reconstructed anew. The challenge for policymakers and practitioners alike is to advocate and encourage creative thinking to facilitate opportunities within communities for emergent supportive relationships for children in difficult circumstances.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides a tool or framework for understanding what it is, as policymakers and practitioners, we should be advocating as children's rights within our own communities of practice. The Convention challenges us to reflect on questions such as what is a child in a particular society and the interaction between age, developmental status and behavioural responsibilities. It asserts the child's right to identity and protection from discrimination. It challenges the most potent form of discrimination against citizens under 18 years in countries worldwide, which is exclusion from participation in many development projects and programmes, policy formulation and evaluation. It challenges us all to examine critically how in everyday activity within our programmes, children's rights are being represented, protected and promoted.


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  1. The author carried out the research referred to in this paper in August 1999 with Concern, Rwanda under the auspices of a joint Trocaire/Universiry College Cork psychosocial programme, Rwanda, The international Famine Centre, UCC provided financial support.
  2. World Rank, World Development Report 1999, New York, Oxford University Press, Table 3, page 235
  3. See SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) Yearbook 1999 on Armaments, Disarmament and International Security. Of the 27 major armed conflicts ill 1998, only two - between India and Pakistan and between Eritrea and Ethiopia - were interstate. All the others were internal conflicts.