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Rwandan orphans denied land rights
Detail: The situation of the 34 million orphans in Africa, whether “AIDS orphans” or survivors of genocide, is typically acute with many suffering from abuse, exploitation and lack of care. With traditional support systems offered by extended families on the decline, governments are unable to take adequate legal or social action to improve the lives of thousands of orphans. The situation of orphans in Rwanda, in particular is very severe with an estimated 300,000 orphans created as a consequence of the 1994 genocide and the deepening of the AIDS crisis. Poverty and land pressures had affected Rwandan families even before the genocide. Post genocide the larger scale land crisis demands that orphans, many of whom are heads of households and without guardians, be given land rights.

Key findings of a research looking at the status of land rights of Rwandan orphans, from Carnegie Mellon University, USA, funded by United States Institute of Peace, suggest that:

· Many orphans in Africa are heads of their households, yet their land rights are often neglected.
· Guardians do not always respect or recognize orphans’ land rights. Following the war in Rwanda there have been many cases of guardians taking advantage of orphans.
· The existing customary and national laws and policies provide little support for orphans, despite the Rwandan Civil Law on Property in 2000.
· Orphans experience many practical barriers: these include a lack of information; time (for example with orphans returning after the war to find their land taken over); status; few financial resources to administrative and legal forums to defend their land rights.

The research had the following recommendations for the Rwandan government to help orphans who, as head of households, are struggling to survive under the current system.

· Develop a legal framework that includes the concept of ‘active legal capacity’, especially for minors, so orphans are granted legal rights based on their maturity and need to be independent, rather than age
· Formulate and enforce land laws specifically catering to orphans’ rights, as separate from adult rights
· Better regulate and support traditional guardianship for orphans
· Implement new forms of care giving that also provide orphans with access to information and legal and administrative aid
· Evaluate orphan intervention programs, such as those involving community volunteers to work on orphans’ fields (this has been used in other African nations)
· Broaden the definition of ‘family’ in post-war Rwanda, for example through ‘children’s villages’
· Design national land development programs with the full participation of orphans.

For further information contact Laurel L. Rose, Philosophy Department, Carnegie Mellon University, (
Source: ‘Orphan’s Land Rights in Post-war Rwanda: the Problem of Guardianship’, Development and Change 36 (5), pages 911-936, by Laurel L. Rose, 2005; id21 Research Highlight, March 31, 2006,
Date: May 26 2006