Why law governing family, persons was amended

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Couples being counselled before civil marriage at Nyarugenge Sector in Kicukiro District. (Timothy Kisambira)

Senators last week passed the Persons and Family Bill, a set of rules that govern different aspects of life of people in Rwanda from birth to parenting, marriage and divorce, or solving family issues. 

Discussions on the Persons and Family Bill, an elaborate law with 331 articles, had been going on in both chambers of Parliament since 2010.

The new legislation on persons and family amended a 1988 law to align it with the country’s Constitution and current realities, officials said.

“It’s an important law for the Rwandan society,” said Senate president Bernard Makuza shortly after the Bill was approved.

Among the aspects the new draft law adds include a clause that one of the spouses has the right to add or use their partner’s name and procedures to acquire the new name have been simplified since spouses can do it at local civil offices.

The age of consent was revised from 21 to 18, except for marriage.

That means that one cannot enter into a marriage contract before attaining the age of 21.

When it comes to marriage, the draft law has struck off the traditional or customary rites (Gusaba) before celebration of marriage and they are now optional instead of being mandatory.

The legally recognised type of marriage in Rwanda is civil monogamous marriage, meaning polygamy and gay marriages, among others, are illegal.

The draft law has also recognised marriage between Rwandans and foreigners or marriages between Rwandans living abroad and provides formalities on how it’s done.

For example, it provides formalities on how marriage between a Rwandan and a foreigner is celebrated on the Rwandan soil and marriage between a Rwandan and a foreigner in a foreign country.

Divorce made easier

The law has also simplified procedures for divorce to prevent gender-based violence, according to officials.

“The procedures for divorce were simplified. This is to prevent a spouse from being harmed by the other while waiting for the court to decide on the matter,” said Jean Pierre Kayitare, the deputy attorney-general in charge of legislative drafting services at the Ministry of Justice.

Once the draft law is enacted, those who have been unable to get children the natural way are free to use technology since the law has introduced a new concept related to procreation through technology.

“This was initiated in order to cope up with the advancement of technology and allow people benefit from modern science,” Kayitare told The New Times.

In line with resolving conflicts in families and society at large, the draft law on family and persons has introduced a ‘family council’, legally vested with powers and responsibilities to settle disputes arising in families.

While the country’s laws on how to adopt children were not clear enough, the new draft law has provided for new methods of adoption that considers the adoption of children both in the country as well as international adoption.

“We only had simple adoption in our laws, but now the law is coming up with international adoption (inter-country adoption), which means creating relationship between a child and a parent of non-consanguinity and they reside in different countries is possible. This type of adoption will be in form of simple adoption or absolute adoption,” Kayitare eplained.

The Persons and Family Bill now proceeds to the presidency for assent before it can be published in the Official Gazette and implemented.

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