Rwanda considers lowering legal marriage age

By Esther Muhozi
On 19 March 2024 at 11:13

The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion in Rwanda has indicated that many girls aged between 18 and 20 wrote to the Ministry of Local Government seeking permission to marry, but their requests were denied.

According to existing family law, a person must be at least 21 years old to marry legally. However, a legislative proposal currently under consideration by the Rwandan Parliament could allow individuals aged 18 to marry if they present valid reasons to the district authorities.

Dr. Valentine Uwamariya, the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, noted that many young women aged between 18 and 20 have attempted to petition the government for permission to marry, despite the current law not permitting it.

Initially, these requests were directed to the Minister of Justice, but as the law stands, they had to wait until the age of 21. Consequently, they turned to writing to the Minister of Local Government, who also responded that the law does not permit it.

Research on health and living conditions shows that 6.7% of girls at age 18 had babies at the time of the survey, with 1.9% pregnant with their first child, and for 19-year-olds, 12.1% had babies, with 3.3% pregnant for the first time.

Dr. Uwamariya confirmed that a significant number of those who wrote to the government seeking to marry before the age of 21 were pregnant.

Despite pregnancy being a common reason, there were other circumstances where individuals aged 18, legally eligible to work, might need to marry.

This includes situations where employment opportunities abroad require being married, which also could affect other opportunities related to their responsibilities or jobs found.

The 2022 census data revealed that 4.7% of youths between 16 and 20 years old were living in unions not recognized by law, without including widows, while 0.2% were separated from their partners.

Deputy Nyabyenda Damien argued that allowing individuals between 18 and 20 years old to marry could address the issue of couples living together without legal recognition due to age restrictions.

He noted that some couples wait for one partner to reach the age of 21 to legally marry, which could lead to separation within those two years, a situation that legal marriage could prevent.

Minister Dr. Uwamariya also pointed out that at the age of 18, individuals are considered adults capable of working, living independently, and making other decisions, as long as they present valid reasons.

The current law sets the marriage age at 21 to ensure that individuals have the opportunity to pursue their education further before taking on marital responsibilities.

Dr. Valentine Uwamariya, the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion.