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Rwanda: The conditions under which a woman can obtain a divorce; whether she can keep her children, receive alimony from her former husband or receive a share of the property; how the civil courts function, and the treatment of divorced mothers with no family

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 23 January 2007
Citation / Document Symbol RWA102083.FE
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Rwanda: The conditions under which a woman can obtain a divorce; whether she can keep her children, receive alimony from her former husband or receive a share of the property; how the civil courts function, and the treatment of divorced mothers with no family, 23 January 2007, RWA102083.FE, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46fa538bc.html [accessed 23 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The National Executive Secretary of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Haguruka provided the following information on Rwandan divorces:

[translation]

1. There are conditions under which a woman can legally obtain from a Rwandan court a divorce or legal separation. In accordance with the provisions of Article 237 of Law 42/1988 of 27/10/1988 establishing the Preliminary Title and Book One of the (Rwandan) Civil Code (loi n° 42/1988 du 27/10/1988 portant titre préliminaire et livre premier du Code civil), either spouse may seek a divorce on the following grounds:

    • conviction for an offence that brings considerable disgrace
    • adultery
    • excess, physical violence or serious injury
    • refusal to help with the main household chores
    • abandoning the marital home for more than 12 months ...
    • de facto separation of three or more years

Article 287 also provides that the conditions for requesting a divorce also apply to legal separations.

2. Custody of the children may be granted to either spouse, as provided for in two laws.

Law 27/2001 of 28 April 2001 sets out in Article 7, paragraph 3, that it is in the best interests of children under six to be raised by their mother.

Article 283 of Law 42/1988 of 27/10/1988 establishing the Preliminary Title and Book One of the Civil Code provides that the custody of the children shall be awarded to the spouse who obtains the divorce, unless the court, of its own initiative or at the request of one of the spouses or the public prosecutor's department (ministère public), orders that, in the interests of the children, any or all of the children shall be placed in the custody of the other spouse or a third party.

The courts generally award custody of young children to women, as it is seen as being in the best interests of the children.

3. When the judgment is handed down, a woman who has divorced her husband may receive alimony in accordance with the provisions of Article 282 of Law 42/1988 of 27/10/1988 establishing the Preliminary Title and Book One of the Civil Code, which states that, if no advantages have accrued to either spouse [during the marriage], or if those stipulated [in the marriage contract] do not appear sufficient to secure the subsistence of the spouse who obtained a favourable ruling, the court may award to such party, from the property of the other, alimony, which shall not exceed the third part of the revenues of such other. This alimony shall be revocable in a case where it shall cease to be necessary.

... Avenues for review and appeal exist in Rwandan legislation and are available to everyone. In other words, litigation relating to the status of persons is submitted to a lower court and can be appealed to a higher court.

4. In the event of a judgment requiring that property be shared, the woman can reclaim her share of a house she co-owns with her husband. Thus, according to Article 24 of Law No. 22/1999 of 12/11/1999 supplementing Book One of the Civil Code and instituting Part Five regarding matrimonial regimes, liberalities and successions, the community of property and limited community of acquests shall be dissolved by divorce, legal separation, modification of the marital regime, or death. If the community is dissolved, the spouses shall share all common assets and liabilities. Thus, the woman may acquire a part of the house bought with her former husband whether they were married under the matrimonial regime of community of property or that of community of acquests.

5. Domestic incidents are not treated as a single offence. Rather, they include a number of offences, such as battery of the wife, the husband (rare), or the children; abuse; adultery committed by either spouse; and abuse of trust. These offences are set out in and punished according to decree-law 21/1977 of 18/08/1977 establishing the Rwandan Penal Code (under review).

Rwandan jurisdictions examine these cases in the same way as other offences. Some of these cases, such as those involving adultery, battery and abuse, are causes for divorce that can be submitted to civil courts. In terms of domestic violence, the Forum of Rwandan Women Parliamentarians (Forum des femmes rwandaises parlementaires) introduced a bill on gender-based violence, which is currently before parliament. However, some women are victims of abuse because, according to Rwandan tradition, the man is never at fault and, when relationship problems arise, it is assumed that the woman is at fault. It takes a long time to change people's thinking.

6. In the past, divorced and single women were few and were discredited by their family and friends. At present, after the genocide in 1994, in which more than a million people died, single women number in the thousands, if not millions. There are so many single women that harassment or stigmatization have become inconceivable, because the misfortune (of being single) is felt by everyone or, at least, by the majority of Rwandans.

This information could not be corroborated by the Research Directorate within time constraints.

Created in 1991, Haguruka is a Rwandan human rights NGO (The New Times 18 Oct. 2005) that focuses primarily on women and children (Internews Rwanda 13 June 2005). Haguruka comprises 100 high-profile Congolese women, including lawyers who offer legal advice and human rights training (Women's Commission 2000, 7). Haguruka is funded by international agencies, such as the World Bank and the European Commission (The New Times 18 Oct. 2005).

According to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005, however, the Family Code has improved women's ability to obtain a divorce and retain custody of their children (US 8 Mar. 2006).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Haguruka. 17 November 2006. Correspondence from the National Executive Secretary.

Internews Rwanda. 13 June 2005. "The Long Road to Justice." [Accessed 30 Nov. 2006]

The New Times [Kigali]. 18 October 2005. "Haguruka Empowers the Marginalised." [Accessed 30 Nov. 2006]

United States (US). 8 March 2006. Department of State. "Rwanda." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005. [Accessed 24 Oct. 2006]

Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children. 2000. Rebuilding Rwanda: A Struggle Men Cannot Do Alone. [Accessed 18 Dec. 2006]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources, including: The Association des femmes chefs de famille; Association de solidarité des femmes rwandaises; Pro-Femmes/Twese Hamwe, a group of Rwandan organizations that promote women's rights, peace and development; and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Central Africa did not respond to requests for information within time constraints.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International (AI), European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Factiva, Human Rights Internet (HRI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Consortium (RHRC), University of Minnesota Human Rights Library, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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