Love and trust in the time of a pandemic

Friday August 20 2021

For many couples, the lockdown was the last straw that broke the camel's back, others strengthened their bond. PHOT | FILE | NMG


The coronavirus pandemic is straining relationships, tested marriages to breaking point, put untold pressures on families and left some broken beyond repair.

Besides the financial pressures, government implemented lockdowns and other restrictions saw families spend far more time together than they are used to, which turned into a litmus test for relationships.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when the Rwanda government was still doing contact tracing, a housewife found out the hard way that her husband was being unfaithful.

Her husband had a habit of flying a girlfriend out to Dubai and spending several days there with her under the pretext of having gone for a work trip. However, his cover was blown when he contracted coronavirus while in Dubai.

After he tested positive, as per the protocols in place his entire family had to be tested and quarantined as well. After investigations into his travels to Dubai, it came to light that he had gone with a girlfriend and so the authorities had to bring the girlfriend to quarantine in the same place where his entire family was.

For many couples, the lockdown was the last straw that broke the camel's back, others strengthened their bond.


Moise Nkundabarashi, a family lawyer and partner at Trust Law chambers in Kigali, told The EastAfrican that there has been a notable spike in divorce cases since the pandemic broke out, but that the underlying issues did not necessarily begin during the pandemic.

He said as people spent months in pandemic-induced confinement during lockdown, couples that had for long been sidestepping the problems in their marriages had to come face-to-face with reality.

Husbands who had been avoiding their wives by "working late" by passing by the bar and only coming home when everyone was sleeping, had nowhere to hide because offices and bars were closed and people had to stay home.

Mr Nkundabarashi said the underlying factors behind most of the divorce cases filed during the pandemic stem from financial pressures and infidelity.

The economic contractions that hit many families also made it hard for couples who sought to dissolve their marriages, leaving them with no option but to live in a state of separation.

Mukarukundo Lillian (not real name) who works with a big corporate entity in Kigali, has given up on her marriage.

She says they have been having issues in their marriage, but the lockdowns brought out the worst in her husband, which drove their marriage to breaking point and they now sleep in separate rooms while they await dissolution.

Nkundabarashi said the reason some divorce cases drag is because couples often fail to agree on division of property, which are normally 50/50.

He says wives file most divorce cases in Rwanda, and that despite the disruptions of the pandemic, there are many couples who have been granted legal dissolution of their marriage.

After finances and infidelity, the other leading cause of divorce in the country is domestic violence, which has been on the increase globally.

Domestic violence during this time has taken the form of physical, emotional and psychological violence, towards wives, children and housemaids, which drove many children, especially those from vulnerable families to the street. Teenage pregnancies also increased in the country.

Moses Kwihangana, a child protection technical advisor at UNICEF, said that they saw teenage girls turn into door-to-door beggars for the first time, and that the long spell at home away from school drove many young teens to experiment with sex.