The courts will have the sole power to decide who takes care of children regardless of their age, in case a couple divorces, if parliament passes amendments to the family law.
In a Bill before parliament, a clause in the 2016 law governing persons and family, stipulating that mothers must take care of children below six years after divorce, will be deleted.
Parliamentarians argued that the clause does not recognise gender equality.
“We need to remove distinctions between which parent can take care of what child because all parents are equal before the law,” said Jean d’Amour Bizimana, the legal adviser at the Gender and Family Promotion Ministry while defending the draft law.
The parliamentary Political and Gender Equality Committee which is made up of mostly women, unanimously agreed that the law must be amended, largely due to international conventions that Rwanda is subscribed to.
“The law promotes discrepancies in the narrative of gender equality where both men and women are equal and can do the same things,” said Emma Furaha Rubagumya, the chairperson of the committee.
Article 243 of the family law published in September 2016, gives rights of custody of children to the spouse who obtains the divorce while the spouse who loses the case is given visitation rights.
However, the exemption is given to mothers to take custody of all the children under the age of six “unless the interest of the children is in danger.”
Parliamentarians say it should not be compulsory for children under the age of six to be automatically placed under the care of the mother, and that such decisions should be left to the discretion of the court in case of a divorce.
The law amendment was slammed by rights groups that stressed that children under the age of six need the care of a mother regardless of gender laws.
“Gender equality has nothing to do with the natural upbringing of a child and the affection a mother gives to a baby as they grow up,” said Christopher Sengoga who is in charge of human rights at Health Development Initiative, a local NGO.
Mary Barikungeli the chairperson at Rwanda Women’s Network said that the focus should instead be placed on what to do in case the mother is incapable of raising the child.
“Law makers should focus on the contribution of the father in case the mother is incapable financially because it’s the greatest challenge that affects children after divorce,” she said.