During the long holidays, you are at a risk of exposure to harmful practices because this is when you are most likely to interact with many relatives, some of whom are sticklers to archaic and harmful customs. It is therefore important to know that you have the right to protection against harmful practices, be they social or cultural.
According to article 21, paragraph one of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), countries like Rwanda which are party to the charter ought to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices affecting the welfare, dignity, normal growth and development of the child.”
The ACRWC particularly points out that customs and practices which interfere with the health or life of the child and those which are based on discrimination on grounds of sex or any other status should be prohibited. A few examples of such practices include unsafe circumcision for male children, female genital mutilation and early marriage.
Article 21 paragraph two of the ACRWC also prohibits child marriage. It requires the countries which agreed to the charter to set the minimum age of marriage at eighteen. Further still, all marriages are to be compulsorily put in official registry.
In Rwanda, according to article 166 Nº32/2016 of 28/08/2016 the law governing persons and family, the minimum legal age for marriage is twenty-one years. This means that the country has taken more steps to prevent people from being married off at a young age.
Any person who marries a child is punishable under the Penal Code of Rwanda. Article 194 of the Penal Code says, “Any person who lives with or attempts to live together with a child as husband or wife shall be liable to the same penalty as a person who defiled a child.”
As par article 191 of the Penal Code, the punishment for defilement is life imprisonment.
Article 194 of the Penal Code further prescribes punishment for those who marry people who are above eighteen but below the age of twenty-one. The culprits are liable to “a term of imprisonment of six (6) months to two (2) years and a fine of two hundred thousand (200,000) to five hundred thousand (500,000) Rwandan francs.”
People who participate in social or cultural practices that are harmful to children are not free from punishment.
For example, a person who participates in early or forced marriage of a child receives a minimum sentence of six months and pays a minimum fine of one hundred thousand Rwandan francs. This is according to article 195 of the Penal Code of Rwanda.