"Child" headed households in Rwanda: challenges of definition and livelihood needs

  • M. E. MacLellan

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This study is centred on the phenomenon of the child headed household in Rwanda. Such households have become an increasingly common occurrence in Sub-Saharan Africa, as a result, in particular, of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This has caused millions of children to become orphaned, and has brought about new coping mechanisms. The case of Rwanda, however, differs from the majority of countries which have experienced the emergence of these households. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that its child headed households are a legacy of two major factors, that of genocide as well as HIV/AIDS. The genocide of 1994 resulted in the death of an estimated 800,000 people, and prompted mass displacement and estrangement of the majority of the population.

    There has been considerable interest in Rwanda‟s progress following the genocide on the part of academics, NGOs and development practitioners. Whilst some of this has focused on children and the vulnerable, the long term perspective has not been sufficiently considered. This research set out to address this by undertaking a longitudinal study over four years examining the child headed household in Rwanda. A core group of 42 households formed the sample, taken from urban, peri-urban, and rural areas and from a refugee camp.

    In the first place the study explores the definition of “child headed household” and offers a typology of the phenomenon. Second, it offers an analysis based on field work of the livelihood challenges to the children within these households, including the basic survival needs of land and property inheritance, income generation and education. Finally the psychosocial needs of the child headed households for acceptance and participation within communities were considered.

    This work considers the challenges to livelihood survival and the non-material needs of those in child headed households in Rwanda within the realities of daily life. It concludes that child headed households need to be redefined in terms of age, composition, and their particular narratives, and their variable composition is an integral characteristic. The livelihood needs of CHHs are particularly challenged by the lack of opportunities for income generation, access to land rights and changes in household life, including revisions in programmes and policies. Furthermore the non-material needs of the children in these households are often unacknowledged; their stories frequently portray a lack of family and community support, marginalisation and isolation, which contests widely held and historic understandings of family and community.
    Date of Award2010
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorBruce Baker (Supervisor), Hazel Barrett (Supervisor) & Roy May (Supervisor)


    • Rwanda
    • poverty
    • AIDS
    • child-headed households
    • genocide

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