By Sonia Uwimana
How to define an orphan? Google doesn’t mince words: A child whose parents are dead. Note the plural: parents, as in both mother and father.
Note also the word child, which, let’s agree for the purposes of this exercise, is a human being under the age of eighteen.
To review, then: an orphan is a person under the age of 18 years old, both of whose parents are dead.
To my mind, this is the most liberal possible definition since it could be argued that, in many cultures, a parentless child who is adopted by the extended family, which is very often the case, faces an entirely distinct predicament from a ward of the state.
Anyway, let’s go with the wider definition. Under eighteen and lost both parents? My condolences — you’re an orphan.
Ok, this brings me — head-shakingly, teeth-grindingly — to this from the Africa Renewal website, a United Nations portal of PR puffery:
According to UNICEF, there are more than a million orphans in Rwanda, from a population of about 12 million.
First off, Rwanda’s population is approximately 1.5 million people fewer than the 12 million cited. Fact-checking, much?
Second…one million orphans?
Let’s revisit the exact words:
…there are more than a million orphans…
Are, Present tense. Not were. Not once was. Not in the immediate aftermath of the genocide.
If this seems like a high number, especially since any orphaned child from 1994 can no longer qualify as an orphan in any meaningful sense of the word, it’s because it is. In fact, it is the worst hyperinflation since Argentina, circa 1989.
Here are the facts: According to the National Institute of Statistics Rwanda (NISR), there were as of last count (2010) 91,363 children under 18 years old in Rwanda who had lost both parents. This accounts for 1.8 percent of the population aged between 0 and seventeen.
Furthermore, in March 2013, there were 2775 children residing in orphanages, according to the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion. The number is declining quickly since the government is anxious for as many children as possible to be raised in families and not as wards of the state. 721 kids have found such placement since July 2012. Correspondingly, three orphanages have closed down as demand for their services declines.
So, there you are.
None of this is to say Rwanda faced anything other than a massive, unprecedented crisis brought about by the proliferation of orphans in 1994.
But the country has managed through and beyond that crisis.
We are not a country that likes to wallow at the high end of the misery index. We will face our challenges squarely and with honesty.
I’m not sure if the UN’s gross error stems from ignorance or a cynical desire to raise money from people accustomed to African despair narratives. Or both.Whatever!
It’s no longer good enough. We can see what you’re doing now. Stop it