In the Republic of
Overview of the country
Burundi is a small landlocked country located in the Central-East part of the African continent bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Tanzania with a high population density and an extreme susceptibility to the protracted global climate emergency. Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and rain-fed agriculture employs around 90% of its inhabitants (UNDP, 2020). Child rights in Burundi unfold in a highly complex and difficult context of post-conflict, post-genocide, post-colonialism and the neoliberal international order. Many measures have been taken by the nation in recent years to improve Burundi’s child protection framework, but there remain prevalent day-to-day and structural challenges seriously impacting children’s lives.
Children’s Rights situation in Burundi
In Burundi, there exists an established national legal framework for the protection of child rights, and Burundi has ratified key international treaties including the Child Rights Convention, and both of its Optional Protocols. Burundian law penalises commercial sexual exploitation of children with 10 to 15 years in prison and a fine, and penalises child pornography with 3 to 5 years in prison and fines. There were, however, no prosecutions of this nature during 2018. Furthermore, the law penalises violence against or abuse of children, with 3 to 5 years’ imprisonment (U.S. Department of State, 2018). Burundi’s 2014 anti-trafficking law criminalises forced labour and trafficking. There are, however, gaps in Burundi’s Penal and Labour Codes which leave some children without legal protection.
Addressing the Needs of Children
Right to education
In Burundi, since the government abolished school fees in 2012, education is free, compulsory, and universal from ages 7 to 13. Consequentially, primary schools saw a high 96% enrolment rate for the years 2010 to 2014, with an 89% youth literacy rate overall (UNICEF, 2016). Secondary school in Burundi, however, comes with tuition fees and is not compulsory, contributing to a low net enrolment ratio of 25%, and an even lower attendance rate between 2010 and 2014 (UNICEF, 2016). Challenges which can impede children’s access to education in Burundi include that throughout the country informal fees are imposed for schooling at all levels (U.S. Department of State, 2018), as well as costs of school books and school uniforms.
Rights to health
Children in Burundi have access to free health care until the age of 5, securing a crucial aspect of their right to health during the most vulnerable period of infancy. The principal direct threats to Burundian children’s health include malaria, malnutrition and respiratory diseases. Burundi is also considered to be at risk of Ebola from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Burundi risks becoming a forgotten refugee crisis as, since 2015, hundreds of thousands of people fled the political crisis that erupted in the country, taking refuge in neighboring countries such as Tanzania and Uganda. More than half of all refugees within Burundi are children, with over 30,000 children having been repatriated to Burundi since 2017, and over 78,000 children registered as internally displaced throughout the 18 provinces (this is decreasing). Many displaced children are unaccompanied, and are at severe risk of abuse, neglect, sexual violence, exploitation and death.
Burundi consistently figures as amongst the few poorest countries in the world (USA Today, 2018). Child poverty is a persistent problem in Burundi, and worsened after the country’s 2015 crisis. In a 2016 report on child poverty, 78% of Burundian children have been identified as living in poverty (monetary, and/or non-monetary poverty), with children who live in rural areas being particularly affected. Child poverty intersects with the other challenges to the fulfilment of child rights in Burundi. It is estimated that just under half a million children live in extreme poverty in the country, with indigenous children from the Batwa minority being disproportionately affected.
According to the NGO War Child, thousands of children continue to live on streets throughout Burundi. These children rely on humanitarian assistance for basic services, such as medical care and economic assistance, since the government provides them with minimal support. Children who live or work on the street continue to face arrest and detention, and many were detained as part of a plan to end vagrancy. Although the government intended to reintegrate detained street children and adults to their places of origin, it seems this has not yet occurred