For generations, it was a common occurrence for a child to sit back, remain idle and wait to inherit their parents’ property, which they were entitled to by law.
This, according to experts, bred the culture of laziness while in some extreme cases, children assaulted or even killed their parents so that they would inherit the parents’ property.
Such practices led to the amendment of the 1999 law on matrimonial regimes, donations and successions. The amended legislation was published in the Official Gazette in August this year.
During an interview with The New Times, Lambert Dushimimana, the head of Legislative Drafting and Translation Department at Rwanda Law Reform Commission (RLRC), said under the previous law, parents were mandated to give a share of their property to their children, adding that sometimes, when the parent did not give any property to children, it created conflicts. There have been cases where children have taken parents to court over property.
“What the law did is to ensure that children do not sit back and wait for their parents’ property.
“A parent remains with the responsibility to educate, provide for and put children in a position to work hard for their own property without having to wait for a share of their parent’s property,” he said, adding that much as the parents can still bequeath to their children, it is no longer an obligation.
The biggest number of conflicts between children and their parents concerning inheritance were land related, where parents were compelled to subdivide the family land so as to distribute plots to their children.
Annie Kairaba, the Managing Director of Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD), a locally based civil society organisation, said land related issues form at least 80 per cent of those registered in communities.
She said the new law will make the youth realise that they should not cling onto land tenure, rather look for sources of income.
“As employment becomes scarce, the youth (who have gone to school) tend to fight over small land with their parents or relatives who never had the opportunity to go to school,” she said.
“This will considerably reduce family disputes, and land will be used optimally whereby instead of focusing on sharing the small land, children will bring in the expertise of making it more productive,” she said.
Kairaba said that in Rwanda, some children reach the extent of killing their parents even when the latter have done everything possible to ensure the children thrive.
“The new law ends this trauma and pressure on parents – of being ‘reminded to die soon, and live behind the property to children’; whether these children helped the parent or not.
With the new law, she said, “parents might even decide to sell their property and put proceeds in savings to assist them during old age.”
Modeste Munyuzangabo, the president of Rwanda Pensioners’ Association, said there were some conflicts which turned brutal as a result of some children focusing on their parent’s wealth instead of focusing on their studies and creation of their own wealth.
The Coordinator of National Youth Council, Clarisse Uwanyirigira, said the new law has many benefits, including changing the youth’s mindset to fend for themselves, instead of looking up to their parents for survival.
Kairaba said that there was need for an immediate and long-term awareness programme about the new law.
Meanwhile, Dushimimana said that besides the quest to make the youth self reliant, the amendment of the law was also triggered by the need to harmonise it with other legislations, especially the amended constitution.
Another factor, he said, is that there were still, in the previous law, terminologies which were no longer in use currently, including Commune, Bourgmestre, and Tribunal de Canton, among others.
The previous law also stated that if one of the spouses died, the matrimonial agreement remained binding, which, he said, was not logical because after death, the living spouse will not be bound by any agreement for the other party has ceased to exist.
The law also gave right to a surviving spouse to inherit the property of their deceased spouse, even when the couple did not bear any child together, something that was not possible under the 1999 law.