A case in which judges ruled in favour of a 30-year-old man whose family disowned him a decade ago following the death of his father could offer reprieve for persons whose births go unregistered.
In April this year, the Supreme Court in Kigali ruled that Roger Byiringiro had the right to belong to a family, despite his father not registering him as his son.
A panel of three senior judges presided over by Zainabo Sylvie Kayitesi noted that registration of a child is not the only action that identifies one’s parents but also testimonies from people who know about the family.”
“Roger Byiringiro is son to the late Prosper Rukundo and must be registered as such and assume ownership of the property of the deceased,” the court ruled.
In 2009, when his grandfather disowned him, Mr Byiringiro reported his case to the ombudsman office.
In 2013, both the Bwishura Primary Court and the Karongi Intermediate Court in Western Province threw out the matter citing “insufficient evidence.”
With the help of the ombudsman, Mr Byiringiro then moved to the Supreme Court on grounds of injustices.
As evidence before the court, the ombudsman presented letters from Byiringiro’s caretakers as well as testimonies from family and neighbours.
Copies of the ombudsman’s report and court ruling which Rwanda Today obtained show that Mr Byiringiro was born in 1989 Kibirizi cell, Rubengera sector in Kabeza village in Karongi District in Western Province, of an unmarried couple who had no plans of living together.
When Mr Rukundo died in 1994, he left his son under the care of Ephrem Gatabazi (the deceased’s father).
Mr Byiringiro’s mother was already married to another man at the time. Mr Gatabazi then asked the young Byiringiro’s maternal grandparents to take care of him while he supported them financially.
“Trouble emerged in 2009 when my grandfather changed his mind and denounced me,” Mr Byiringiro told the courts.
In his defense, Mr Gatabazi said: “The clothes, medication, school fees and a plot of land I offered Byiringiro were out of my generosity to the poor but not because Byiringiro is a son to my son as he alleges.”
But the ombudsman’s report notes that, “Family members and neighbours testified that Byiringiro is the son of Rukundo, that Rukundo took care of the boy before he died and that Gatabazi took care of Byiringiro.”
The ombudsman also presented as evidence, letters Mr Gatabazi had written to both Byiringiro’s mother and aunty in which he mentioned Byiringiro as a family member.
“At last I’m legally accepted into my family and the genealogy that places me in my country,” an elated Mr Byiringiro told Rwanda Today last week.
Evaliste Murwanashyaka the programmes manager and child rights focal person at Cladho, an umbrella association of child rights organisations, said that such cases are due to self-aggrandisement of the elders in families.
“Children are disowned mainly due to an interest in the property that would belong to them if they were to be legally accepted into a family” he said. “It’s not a child’s fault not to be registered and we have been helping children to legally belong to their families based on evidence from family members or neighbours.”