In the Rwandan community, we are familiar with three types of marriages, that is; – civil, traditional and religious. So far, only monogamy is allowed in any form of marriage which could be why those who are cohabiting were left behind , many left to live in violent relationships with no parental right or right to property.
Angela Mukamwezi, a mother of four, lost her husband and legal rights over her properties. Narrating her story in tears she states that she met her late husband in Kigali city 14 years ago. “We used to work in the same house, I was a maid and him a watchman, we fell in love and I got pregnant so we rented a single room in the slum. It was what we could afford by then and by the time I got my third child, we were doing all odds jobs to make ends meet” she narrates.
“We started to buy some properties and build our own house in his village, everything was moving well till the day he passed away in a road accident. My in-laws didn’t spare me time to mourn my husband. The first thing they did was grab all my land and house. My father in law said that everything was his and his family; they chased me away with my four children”, Mukamwezi adds.
Mariam Mukamana’s story is not a sweet tale.
“I am the first wife to a muslim man to whom I was wedded in an arranged Muslim marriage. Even though we are married, we didn’t register in civil books which gave him the right to marry a second wife whom they considered the official wife because they were married not only religiously but officially in a civil wedding. I lost the battle to my co-wife now I have to beg her everything after our husbands jailed for genocide crimes, yet I was the one who helped him to build his business empire in the first place.”
Patrick Kagabo, a father of two is another victim of cohabiting. “My ex-wife, whom I got from my hometown, educated her and took care of all her expenses from high school to university, after graduating got herself an educated man, they got married officially and took my properties leaving me on the street with my sons, I was tortured mentally and physically.”
He adds, “I loved the mother of my kids, trusted her so much I registered everything in her name. I lost the case because of lack of evidence and money to follow up and pay the lawyer.”
Talking to all those people and many who are in the same situation shows that not only those parents’ lives were affected, but children as well.
Allan Ngayaberura, an 18 years old fruit of an affair between a secretary and her boss told us that, “ When I was young my daddy used to visit us during day but never spent much times with us, I didn’t pay any attention or mind as long as he took care of our needs but slowly, he started to change his attitude toward my mum and I. In one of their regular arguments I overheard mum threatening him to spill the beans about their affair if he doesn’t give her a big sum of money to start her own business. He did but never came back until I decided to look for him and to my utter surprise my stepmom was told that I died with my mum a longtime ago since then I never looked for him my mum spent all that money on booze and clothes I have to work as a porter to get school materials for me and my young siblings, my dream is to become a lawyer and defend other people in the same situation.


Madam Mujawamariya Elisabeth vice mayor in charge of social affairs Gicumbi district told us that cohabiting is a big challenge to the society. Sometimes those who are in that kind of marriage face many problems and among them is polygamy and violence against women and children. Incase of separation one of them could lose everything they worked for, children suffer a lot mentally and physically. However, we always advise families to legalize their union, some do and others refuse. When we receive such cases we look into the gender based violence law and children rights book and act accordingly with the law.”
Article 39 of Law N* 59/2008 of 10/9/2008 on prevention and punishment of gender based violence
Legalize unlawful marriage and common assets distribution
Those people entertaining unlawful marriages shall be married in accordance with the monogamous principle.
If a person concerned with the provision of the previous paragraph of this article was living with many husbands/wives, he shall first share the commonly owned belongings with those husbands/wives equally.
The property distribution referred to in paragraph two of this article shall not entrench on the children’s legal rights.
Modalities of such distribution shall be determined by an order of the minister in charge of Local government.
With the support from lawmakers, stakeholders and civil society, those who don’t know their rights can get help if they know the right institutions to seek assistance.

Twahirwa Umumarashavu Janat.