[2 March 2016] - Children in Rwanda may soon gain direct access to justice much younger once an amendment to harmonise disparities in the country's different minimum ages is passed.
The Justice Ministry (Minijust) said the parliamentary amendment in the family law would review the age required for one to attain legal capacity, which is 21, in line with the age required in other provisions such as labour (16) and criminal culpability (18).
“This is one of the issues parliamentarians will look into. They may decide to reduce the age to 16 required for a child to obtain in identity card, to enter a contract or seek a driving permit. I’m sure they will reach a consensus that favours the children,” Johnston Busingye, Justice Minister and Attorney-General said.
A recent report by Child Rights International Network (CRIN) gave the country position 80 out of 197 countries globally, having looked into how well states enable children to access justice and enforce their rights.
According to Rwanda’s laws, legal capacity is attained only when an individual reaches age 21, otherwise a child must take legal action through a representative.
But the law also set the minimum age for employment at 18, and the minimum age for apprenticeship at 16. The penal code considers juveniles criminally culpable at the age of 18.
Such disparities, the report claims, prevent children from accessing justice, particularly where there is a conflict of interest between the child and his or her parents, or where the parents may be involved in the violation of the child’s rights.
Although Minijust argues that there has been no single case recorded of children denied access to justice, CRIN's concerns are shared by local rights bodies namely Haguruka, which is involved in defending women and children’s rights. On its part, the 21 years of age required for the person to take legal action in his or her own capacity brings contradiction with other laws.
“Why would one’s age allow him to be employed, and later when he gets issues with the employer be required to go through a representative? There is a contradiction there,” Ninette Umurerwa, executive secretary of Haguruka told radio station KFM.
“Civil majority may still remain at 21 especially for marriage; that’s how we view it, but for filing cases to court there is need to reduce the threshold.”
CRIN's report, describes the disparity as a gap in the States’ legal framework, likely to undermine protection for children.