Everything you need to know about marriage in Rwanda

3 Jul 2023·19 min to read
Articles
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More than 45,000 marriages are registered every year in Rwanda by Rwandan nationals and foreign spouses from other countries. Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda, is an East African country popularly referred to as "the land of a thousand hills." The country has amazing biodiversity and is a great spot for tourists and African foreigners. There are different ways in which people get married in Rwanda. Marriage can be performed civilly, religiously, or traditionally. However, the country only recognizes one of these three popular types of marriage. Only civil marriages are legally binding in Rwanda. Other marriages may only be performed and recognized after a civil marriage has been performed and the couples have obtained a marriage certificate. 

Rwanda has various natural attractions that offer visitors adventurous and unique experiences. Therefore, a lot of foreigners and tourists solemnize their marriages in the country every year. In Rwanda, neither cohabitation nor adultery are recognized. Two romantic partners do not have the authority to declare themselves as husband and wife or to be in a civil marriage unless they actually get married in a civil registrar's office. Also, marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and other forms of marriage or relationships outside this box are not recognized by the country. 

To get married in Rwanda, both spouses must have reached the age of 21. In some cases, exceptions may be allowed to this marriage rule; however, it is only for spouses aged 18–21, and they must provide parental or legal guardian consent. Male and female spouses below the age of 18 are not allowed to perform a marriage in Rwanda. There are some cases of child marriages in the country, with about 7 percent of Rwandan males and females getting married before the age of 18. The number of child marriages in the country has seen a steady decrease over the past few years. Continue reading to find out more about marriages in Rwanda as well as their unique traditions.

Civil marriages 

A civil marriage is the only type of marriage that is legally binding in the country. Civil marriages are performed by authorized marriage officers or registrars in the country, and they must take place in the registrar's office. In Rwanda, a civil marriage must be a monogamous marriage. This implies that a person who is already married is not allowed to perform another civil marriage in Rwanda. The country takes this marriage law strictly, and men are not allowed to marry multiple women. Former spouses must submit a divorce decree or death certificate from their previous marriage. 

This will serve as evidence that their previous marriage was dissolved legally and that they have the freedom to enter into a new marriage with someone else. In Rwanda, the documents required for foreign spouses may be a little different from those of Rwandan nationals. A single status certificate is required from all foreign spouses who want to get married in Rwanda. Those who are unable to obtain this certificate are required to provide a court-sworn affidavit of their marital status. In most cases, the court will require such a spouse to present witnesses who can attest to the fact that he or she was single at the time of contracting the marriage. To make the marriage process easier, both native Rwandans and foreign spouses are expected to have prepared all the original copies of their documents and means of identification before proceeding with the marriage application and registration. 

The marriage application form must be filled out appropriately and completely by both spouses, and the couple is expected to secure an appointment at the civil registry so as to give notice of marriage. The civil registry used should be the one in the municipality where either or both spouses reside. The notice of marriage will then be published by the marriage officer. The registrar will leave the notice open and public for some days or a couple of weeks to see if there will be any balmy impediments to the marriage at home and abroad. If nothing comes up to derail the marriage, the procedure is repeated. The registration services provided must be paid for in full by the couple before they are able to obtain a marriage certificate. 

Foreign spouses who are getting married in Rwanda may not speak the local language the marriage will be performed in. If a foreign spouse does not speak Kinyarwanda, French, Swahili, or English, they may provide an interpreter during the marriage ceremony. Also, documents obtained from foreign countries must be legalized through the use of an apostille. This is an official authorization stamp that will prove the originality of the presented documents. Documents can either be obtained from the home country of a foreign spouse or from the embassy or consulate of their country in Rwanda. The documents that are required from both spouses are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification must be submitted by both spouses. This includes a national identity card or a valid passport.
  • Proof of residency This is often required from foreign spouses. Before the marriage registration, they must have lived in Rwanda for the stipulated time frame.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Either of the spouses who were previously married is required to submit whichever document applies to them.
  • Authenticated proof of dowry or bride price settlement to the family of the bride.
  • Both partners are required to provide witnesses who are of legal age.
  • Partners under the age of 21 must provide written parental or legal guardian consent.

Religious and customary marriages

Religious and customary marriages are popular in Rwanda. Even though these types of marriages are common, they have no legal standing. Most couples perform these marriages after a civil marriage has been contracted. Marriage is important to Rwandans, and most spouses and families anticipate the special event for several years before it happens. The largest religion in Rwanda is Christianity. Over 40 percent of the total population are Christians under the church denomination of the Roman Catholic Church. 

The majority of the rest of the people in the country are Protestants and Seventh-day Adventists. The total population of Muslims in Rwanda is small, at only about 2 percent of the population. According to these statistics, the majority of marriages are performed under the Christian religious belief. Christian marriages have their own unique traditions, which always begin with a procession. During this time, all the members of the wedding party enter the church accordingly before the commencement of the wedding ceremony.

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Marriage traditions in Rwanda

Gutinyisha 

This is a unique Rwandan tradition that refers to the preparation period before the actual wedding ceremony to ensure the bride looks her best on her wedding day. This period also includes marriage counseling for the bride from close relatives.

Dowry

The payment of dowry is a very important marriage tradition in Rwanda. The standard dowry payment in the country is a cow. The number of cows demanded from the groom depends on the bride's family and his financial capabilities.

Agashingura Cumu

This is a marriage custom that is performed at the end of the wedding ceremony. Here, after all the ceremonial sites have been concluded, the Agashingura Cumu is shared among the guests. After everyone has taken their drinks, the bride and groom depart together to begin their new life in their marital home.

Same-sex marriages 

Same-sex marriages are prohibited in Rwanda. The country does not recognize any form of same-sex relationships for Rwandan nationals or other foreign spouses getting married there. Same-sex sexual activities and homosexuality are legal under the law. But generally, Rwandans perceive such an act as taboo, and this type of union results in legal challenges and a high level of discrimination.

Polygamy in Rwanda

Polygamy is illegal in Rwanda. A man is not allowed to marry more than one woman at a time, and likewise, a woman. Under the constitution, marriage is regarded as a monogamous union between a single man and a single woman. However, even though polygamous marriages are not permitted under the law, there are still some areas in Rwanda where these types of marriages are practiced. There are mostly rural areas.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

Marriage is the state of being joined together as spouses in a voluntary and legally binding partnership. In any country in the world, couples must obey the law of marriage before marriage can take place. In Rwanda, the law states that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman, which implies that any form of marriage between same-sex couples is prohibited. However, they have a legal status that allows them to carry out activities within the country, but they are not permitted to contract marriage, change gender, or adopt. The legal age for marriage is 21 years old. Persons who are younger than 21 are not allowed to contract marriage. According to the law, a civil monogamous marriage between one man and one woman is the only recognized form of marriage in the country. 

A man is not allowed to practice polygamy, where he can marry more than one wife at once, nor is a woman allowed to practice polyandry, where she is allowed to marry more than one man. If the couple does not have a comprehensive understanding of the institution of marriage, they would not be allowed to enter into a marriage agreement. The husband and wife must be in a stable state of mind to be able to contract marriage. Voluntary and free consent to marriage from the husband and wife must be obtained without the use of force or threats and without any external influence; if the consent given was obtained through the use of force, the marriage would be considered void. Cohabitation is recognized under the law; however, the couple must have lived together for a number of years before they are permitted to register their union. 

The marriage laws of Rwanda recognize any marriage that was contracted abroad; likewise, any marriage certificate obtained from the country is recognized across the world. Foreigners are permitted to get married in Rwanda, but they must be able to prove that they are single and that there is no legal impediment to marriage. Marriage between people who share a common ancestor is prohibited under Rwandan marriage law. If either of the couple has been married but is currently divorced, they are required to submit an original decree of divorce to the civil registry to prove that the marriage has been dissolved, and if either of the couple has been widowed, a certificate of death of the deceased spouse must be submitted.

Rights

The law recognizes both men and women as equals under the law; therefore, after marriage has been contracted, they are still considered to be equals. The husband and wife have the right to work and receive equal payment for that work without facing any discrimination at the workplace. They have the right to pursue career paths and ambitions without restrictions. The husband and wife have the right to participate in any political and socioeconomic activities outside the confines of the home. 

They have the right to vote and be voted for. Both couples have the right to fair and respectful treatment from one another. They have the right to procreate and raise the children according to their various moral and religious beliefs. Unlike unmarried individuals, who must file individual taxes, married couples have the right to file joint taxes as one. The husband and wife have the right to own properties both individually and jointly. Couples have the right to decide. The marital regime of property they wish to contract at the time of marriage could be a joint or a separate regime. 

Under the joint regime, once divorce is contracted, the husband and wife have the right to at least 50% of all properties. Both the husband and wife have the same contractual rights. In a divorce, the law demands the same requirements from the husband and wife for the divorce to be finalized, as after the divorce has been finalized, the husband and wife have equal rights to custody of the children; however, before the custody can be granted, the interests of the children would be put into consideration.

Costs

The cost of hosting a wedding in Rwanda is determined by a number of factors, such as the financial ability of the couple and the size and duration of the ceremony. Many families expect the groom to pay the dowry to the bride's family, which can include livestock (such as cows and chickens), groceries, food, and even money. 

Some families ask for as much as Rwf500,000 for dowry payment, and many even ask for as much as Rwf1,000,000 before they allow marriage to take place. In more recent times, many young couples have avoided this stress and just contracted a civil marriage, which costs just Rwf 10,000. Marriage costs vary; they start around Rwf 250,000 and easily increase depending on the status of the couple. 

Photography and videography cost around Rwf15,000, and drinks for at least 70 guests cost around Rwf30,000. Wedding attire can be bought or rented, and rentals start at around Rwf 20,000 for the suit and gown. The cost of the venue, catering, transportation, and all other miscellaneous expenses make up the total cost of the wedding budget in Rwanda.

Duties

The husband and wife have various duties to perform in the home. The most important duty of the husband and wife to one another is the duty to love, care for, and be committed to one another; they must provide mutual support and assistance to one another at all times. The husband and wife have an obligation to jointly provide for the welfare and well-being of the family according to their means. 

Couples have an obligation to perform their various conjugal duties as husband and wife in the home. They have a duty to protect one another and the family as a whole. They have a duty to communicate with one another and share things with one another, even during challenges in marriage. They have a duty to take care of the children and provide a proper educational and moral upbringing to ensure that they become upstanding citizens of the country.

Final Thoughts  

Rwanda is known to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The country has a wide range of natural attractions that are suitable for weddings and honeymoons. In fact, spouses can get married in the country and also have their honeymoon vacation, thus killing two birds with one stone while having the best time.

To get married in Rwanda, one does not have to be a citizen of the country. However, there are certain conditions that must be met by spouses before they are allowed to solemnize their marriage in the country. These were stated earlier on in the article. We hope you have learned everything you need to know about marriage in Rwanda.

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