Divorce bill debate gathers pace

Couples requesting separation by mutual consent could have it sooner than it is at present if amendments to the 1988 law governing persons and family are passed.
Some of the legislators in the standing committee on political affairs and gender during recent consultations to amend the law governing persons and family. The New Times/File.
Some of the legislators in the standing committee on political affairs and gender during recent consultations to amend the law governing persons and family. The New Times/File.

Couples requesting separation by mutual consent could have it sooner than it is at present if amendments to the 1988 law governing persons and family are passed.

Before the dust settles, however, as indicated during initial debate on the matter and other clauses, on Monday, when the Chamber of Deputies’ standing committee on political affairs and gender heard proposals by stakeholders, there were mixed opinions.

Shedding light on the changes regarding Chapter One [Divorce] of the Bill, Jean Pierre Kayitare, Assistant Attorney General in charge of Legislation Drafting Services in the Ministry of Justice (Minijust), told the session that currently, divorce in Rwanda is not easily granted yet there could be genuine grounds for the trend to be reversed.

Kayitare told MPs and civil society representatives that the strictness may, on one part, be relevant since the Constitution recognizes the principle that the family unit is the pedestal of people’s harmony and wellbeing and they should not support or ease the process of separating people.

“That is why you find that Rwandan laws on divorce are rigid – even when two people consent, the law requires them to wait for five years,” he said, adding “But then you wonder, If the couple itself has admitted that it [marriage] is not working, why can’t it be eased to at least two years?”

Emmanuel Ntambara, a Legal Advisor in the Ministry of Youth and Information and Communication Technology (MYICT) told the meeting that he did not entirely understand or buy the idea of not curtailing divorce.

“As a youth, and a person who works with the youth, we all know that the youth usually make hasty decisions. It may be a lengthy process but I think this procedure has benefits,” he argued.

“When people decide to get married they know it is not a bed of roses and they commit and know they will have to stay firm. But when the law is not strict, we will be giving people an opening to just come and spend two years in marriage and divorce just because the law provides for it”.

On the other hand, Jephthah Uwayo, of the Ministry of Health, told the session that there is no reason for people to be forced to continue living together.

“If it has become difficult for two people to continue living together, there is no reason for putting strict conditions for them to stay together. It causes many economic problems,” Uwayo said.

“If it has become unbearable to live with someone yet you are forced to stay with them for five years, it means you will both stay but no one will work hard knowing that when you actually separate, you will share wealth – before that, whatever the case, you will fear constructing a house, thinking that on divorce, the man or woman will take it. It is a problem, one way or another.”

Uwayo said that easing restrictions on divorce could really be helpful.

“The government does not support the idea of people separating. Divorce is an exception and not a principle, but we don’t see any problem in making it easy”.

The Chamber of Deputies’ standing committee on political affairs and gender has concluded countrywide consultations on the entire Bill.

“People commented on this and indicated that they see no reason why people who no longer can live together should be tied together, because since they willingly agreed to tie the knot, and when it becomes necessary that there be agreement to separate, no one should prevent them,” said Hon. Alfred Rwasa Kayiranga, chairperson of the committee.

“What is important is that provisions are made clear in the law, especially when the couples have children. People supported the fact that issues to do with wealth sharing as in the law, are such that three quarters of this wealth remains with the children and the rest is given to those divorcing, and those with no children to share equally”.

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