Hundreds of children suffer in adult jails

18th August 1995 at 01:00
The eight-year-old boy pictured left is one of more than 1,000 children being held in detention in Rwanda.

One year after the end of the war, in which up to one million people - mainly civilians - were killed, there is growing concern about the fate of children held in badly overcrowded adult prisons.

Many are accused of murder, but others are simply held because their mothers are accused of crimes.

More than 50,000 people are in prison, awaiting trial, in 13 jails designed to take 12,000. The worst overcrowding is at Gitarama prison, where 10 prisoners are herded into space designed for one.

Many children are forced to share adult accommodation. In Kigali prison, children are housed separately and receive a basic education. But they still live in cramped and squalid conditions, with up to six sharing cubicles five feet wide and four feet high.

Rwanda's year-old government is struggling to rebuild a judicial system shattered by the events of last year, when 80 per cent of its judges and lawyers either fled or were killed. Many of the prisoners are accused of genocide.

Last week three 14-year-old boys became the first children to be released since the detentions began last year. They were among 148 child prisoners moved to improved conditions at a juvenile detention centre south of the capital Kigali. The cases of 65 more children are under review. They are being represented by lawyers employed by the children's charity Unicef.

Thomas Bergman, Unicef's programme co-ordinator in Rwanda, said: "These children are now our biggest priority. The overcrowding is terrible and we are trying to separate children from adults and pressing for the release of those children who are not facing charges."

The Rwandan government is also concerned about conditions in the prisons and is seeking help to try to speed up the judicial process.

Further releases of children are expected within the next few days, but there is concern that they could be subject to revenge attacks by families who lost relatives in the genocide. Others do not have families to return to.

A total of 1,028 children are in prison in the country, including 193 who have not been charged.

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