Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Restorative Justice for the Girl Child in Post-Conflict Rwanda

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Restorative Justice for the Girl Child in Post-Conflict Rwanda

Article excerpt


The girl child suffers from both sexism and "childism" for she is at the intersection of women's rights and children's rights. The question of her fate in post-conflict Rwanda is particularly crucial for during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, she suffered egregious sexual violence based on gender regardless of her age. Not only were two-year old girls raped, but there was a clear intention to make women and girls suffer differently from men and boys: while the latter were killed rapidly with a single shot or machete stroke, girl children and women were mutilated, tortured and left to die slowly. However, to focus solely on the sexual abuse of girl children in conflict hinders other aspects of the discrimination they undergo in numerous areas of their daily lives. Our hypothesis is that the sexual violence suffered by girl children during the genocide can be seen as emblematic of a general pattern of sexual discrimination in Rwandan society which was unleashed by the exacerbation of the ethnic conflict. Based on this premise, Rwanda will be studied as a case in point by defining the girl child in that specific context and suggesting a restorative approach to her fate. First, this article will study the status of the girl child in international law. Second, it will examine her status in Rwanda before and during the genocide, as well as in the transitional or post-conflict society she dwells in today. Finally, this article will provide recommendations for her healing through a "childered" and gendered approach to recovery by establishing a restorative paradigm in terms of safety, remembrance, and reconnection.

Keywords: girl child, Rwanda, restorative justice

   The girl child of today is the woman of tomorrow.
   The skills, ideas and energy of the girl child
   are vital for full attainment of the goals of
   equality, development, and peace.
   (Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 1995: 41)


There is no official definition of the "girl child" for no international binding convention or national legislation specifies her status. One can only postulate that she is both a female and a child. Although the "girl" component is self-explanatory, the "child" component has different delimitations under international, regional and national law.

Since the purport of this article is the girl child in Rwanda, we shall look at all three categories of legislation that afford protection to children.

In international law the concept of the girl child comes under the heading of "child" as defined under article 1 of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child: "a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier." This signifies that as long as a child is a minor and under 18 years old, s/he is entitled to the special protection afforded by the Convention. One can wonder whether child provisions still hold, if in certain countries majority is attained "later", as the wording of article 1 reads "earlier." This question is pertinent in the case of the Rwandan girl child and will be discussed below.

In regional law, the 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, under article 2, sets a higher standard than the United Nations Child Convention in not allowing any exceptions: "a child means every human being below the age of 18 years." The issue of majority is not mentioned which signifies that the provisions of the Charter are applicable to all children under 18 years of age.

Rwandan law states that majority is attained at 21 under article 360 of the 1988 Rwandan Civil Code. A child therefore retains its status for three years more than the international and regional age standards. However, if a child gets married before 21, s/he is automatically emancipated under article 426 of the same Civil Code. Minors must however obtain the consent of their parents as well as of the Minister of Justice under article 171 of the Civil Code if they want to marry before 21. …

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