Marital rape will attract between ten to 15 years of imprisonment upon conviction, according to the draft penal code passed by Parliament last week and now awaits the presidential assent.
Under the current penal code, which is under review, rape of a person aged eighteen years or above is penalised by a term of imprisonment of more than five years to seven years.
But the penalty is not as heavy for rape among spouses since any person who commits marital rape is liable to a term of imprisonment of at least two months but less than six months.
Its Article 133 states that any person who is convicted of rape shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than ten years and not more than fifteen years, and a fine of not less than one million Rwandan Francs and not more than two million Rwandan Francs.
The article states that if the act of rape is committed among spouses, it shall also be considered to be rape, hence making no distinction of the crime.
“Rape is rape irrespective of the relationships and should be punished as such,” said MP Theoneste Karenzi.
He said that if a spouse rapes a partner, it means that there is a problem and it should be punished seriously.
“If someone makes steps to complain about rape by a partner it means that the problem is even more serious,” he said.
MP Annoncée Manirarora agreed, saying that handing the same penalty for rape makes sense because underestimating marital rape exacerbates psychological torture that come with it.
“Rape among spouses is even worse because sometimes there is constant harassment from a partner. It should be severely punished because it is actually psychological torture. We shouldn’t only look at it physically but also psychologically because a certain animosity is involved,” she said in an interview on Thursday.
Treating all rape equally as such under Rwandan laws, except for rape committed against minors which attracts much heavier punishments, has been welcomed by members of the civil society in the country.
Some civil society organisations, including the Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development (GLIHD), had petitioned the government to harmonise rape related cases in the country’s penal code.
The NGOs, which include GLIHD, the Rwandan Organisation of Women with Disabilities, Uwezo Youth Empowerment, and Human Rights First Rwanda Association, had denounced handing lighter penalties for rape among spouses as a violation of the principle of equal protection under the law.
Tom Mulisa, the Executive Director of GLIHD, told Saturday Times that handing equal punishment for rape cases makes sense.
“It is a positive development because marital rape remains rape and can even be worse. The consequences of rape, whether they are trauma or otherwise are the same and therefore it should be punished the same way,” he said.