Why repairing damaged social fabric should be at the core of our development efforts

Tuesday December 18 2018

The issue of divorce in Rwanda is shaping up as

The issue of divorce in Rwanda is shaping up as a thorny one because the young generation is not taking married life as seriously as it must be taken, simply because the older generation is exactly doing the same. PHOTO | FILE  

By DR. JOSEPH RYARASA NKURUNZIZA
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There have recently been many reports about the threat to the institution of marriage, which is the rising rate of divorce.

The reports followed a media briefing hosted by Rwanda’s Chief Justice, Professor Sam Rugege, ahead of the 2018 Judicial Week.

During this event, he pointed out that divorce cases had increased to 1,311 in 2018 from only 26 in 2016.

This is despite the efforts of the government to modernise marriage laws or the relentless determined attempts by the religious fractions or society to keep the families together.

My own opinion is not informed though by any systematic research. Instead, it builds on my personal observations as a concerned social agent as well as the discussions I entertain with couples at the brink of divorce or those ones who have already worked away of their marriage.

From my personal observations and social interactions, I came to reach the conclusion that the following issues are other possible key root causes of increasing divorce rates: damaged social fabric, too young couples for marriage, socio-economic challenges and competition as well as lack of marriage mentors.

It is my understanding that these issues, alarming though, are rarely spoken about in the public discourse around this social phenomenon.

Damaged social fabric

During the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, lives were destroyed, properties were demolished, but also, it robbed us of our social fabric.

When a child killed a friend, a husband killed a wife, a sister killed a brother, an auntie killed her niece and an uncle killed a nephew, a social element was utterly wrecked.

Some children were left as orphans, some were born out of rape, some were raised in orphanages, others were forced to live sorry lives in refugee camps, while others were left to be raised in child-headed families.

All these affected the men and women that are in families today, some with no attachment to family values and others so lonely to even seek help when facing issues in their marriages.

Their past wounds and demons still linger on, an aspect that keeps affecting the families today, thus can potentially lead to marriage terminations.

Marriage is a responsibility but it’s very common to see young people who walk into marriages with no idea of what they are going into, although some grow into, others fail and they end up walking away, just as they walked into it.

In such marriages, some give birth with no plan; they only think it’s a must to give birth when one gets married.

Some young couples get married because they want to have legal or blessed sex, others because they get pregnant, and others because they want to have babies.

But wait, do these young boys and girls know that it is more than just about sex or having babies, but more and more responsibility, financially, socially and psychologically?

Although some young girls have been forced to think that they have prime years, where they are sexier, with better bodies to look good in a gown, I think the prime years are meant to deeply reflect about their lives and plan for the future, not necessarily marriage.

I heard a joke recently, when one lady said “I vowed for rich or for poor, not for poorer” What? Yes, the lady continued to say, “he got poorer, yet his peers were getting richer, that’s not what I signed up for”.

That’s what is going on in our society today, where couples are competing for whose marriage is better, whose wife posts better Instagram pictures or whose husband drives the latest vehicle or holds the latest phone.

Today, boys and girls befriend each other on social media and get married the next day with high financial expectations.

Such economic and social challenges and competitions wreck the marriage and the family institutions so badly.

Seriousness

The issue of divorce is shaping up as a thorny one because the young generation is not taking marriage life as seriously as it should be taken, simply because the older generation is exactly doing the same.

Hinged on all the causes above, the young people who get married today have no mentors to look up to for marriage counselling and stability.

If a young couple has a mentor to tell them communication is key in any union, even in a middle of a fight, or that marriage has moments of in and out of love, so they don’t throw in a towel simply because they woke up not feeling good about their significant other.

Sometimes couples end up resenting each other simply because they feel like their needs are being ignored or are going unmet, so young couple need to know that sharing the same house, doesn’t mean they can read each other’s minds.

Whatever they are expecting from the relationship, it’s important that they share it, and they can know about that aspect, if there is mentor to guide them through it.

There are a lot of couples who are not happy in their marriage simply because they don’t feel like they relate to one another anymore.

This can happen when things like financial pressures, hectic schedules and their children’s needs take precedence over spending time with one another.

That’s not the time to give up though, unless it turns violent, but it’s rather the time to work hard at it, communicate more and rekindle the fire.

It is not a disputable fact that marriage is a practical and serious relationship which can provide a mature and profound love, companionship and caring.

As it weakens, we all have a role to play to save marriages and family but also protect the next generation that often gets direly affected in dysfunctional or broken families.

We ought to utilize the existing spaces to openly and frankly talk about the issues raised above, organize public talks meant to strengthen families, widely consult with concerned citizens prior to enactment of any public policy on family, and widely disseminate all family laws/policies to all citizens.

Repairing the damaged social fabric should continue to be at the core of our post-genocide development efforts.

Carefully and meticulously preparing younger ones for marriage and its purpose as well as mentoring young couples could save many struggling marriages from collapsing.

Perhaps people should also remember that the society has evolved - I know it may sound bizarre- but if someone wants to cohabit before they marry, the law should give them space to do so.

The writer is the Executive Director at Never Again Rwanda, a Peace Building &Social Justice Organization. He is also a strategic adviser at the centre for Public Health & Development. The views expressed in this article are of the writer. Twitter @Josephnzizar