Nairobi — A Marriage Bill which seeks to unify Kenya's various marriage-related laws and customs and strengthen women's rights in marriage was introduced to parliament on Tuesday and caused uproar among Kenyan men, many saying it is 'punitive' and should not become law.
"This bill is punitive to the menfolk and should not see the light of day," Jeff Omondi wrote on Ghafla.co.ke.
Kenyan women sometimes only find out at their husband's funeral that he had secretly married a second wife and had children with her, leading to inheritance disputes.
Many couples marry under customary, or traditional, law, which involves a ceremony and the payment of a dowry by the man's family to the woman's.
The bill provides for a certificate to be issued when such marriages take place, reducing the chances of women being neglected by their spouses or excluded from an inheritance because they had no proof of marriage.
JAIL FOR POLYGAMY
The bill proposes the legal recognition of polygamy under Muslim or customary marriage provided that a man declares before marrying his first wife that it is a potentially polygamous union.
Polygamy would not be allowed for those taking part in a Christian or civil marriage, The Star reported. Those who enter second marriages illegally could be jailed for five years and/or fined 300,000 Kenya shillings ($3,500).
Women's rights groups have backed the bill as it guarantees spouses equal rights to matrimonial property, protecting the rights of the first wife who is often neglected when a man takes a second, younger wife.
"The husband must treat both wives equally. This law caters for those women who are either abandoned or neglected after their partner adds other women," Ruth Aura, chairwoman of the Federation of Women Lawyers, told The Standard newspaper.
RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT
One of the clauses attracting the most debate - and anger among men - is the declaration that "damages may be recoverable by a party that suffers a loss when the other party refuses to honour a promise to marry."
"Dudes... you could soon be charged in a Law Court for failing to marry someone's daughter after promising to marry her," Omondi wrote.
"I like to promise a lot when am high. Will that count too (?)" asked Ishmeal Maichez. "To us men, may God see us through these trying times," he added.
"On a date you have a right to remain silent, anything you say will and shall be used against you in a court of law," tweeted Rapheal Lewis Oyango.
The bill sets the minimum age for marriage at 18, in the hope of protecting young girls from being married off against their will, a common practice in some communities. Those who marry someone under 18 could be jailed for five years and/or fined 1 million Ksh ($11,500).
The bill also says that dowry payments should be only a "token amount" where such payments are necessary to prove a marriage under customary law. At present, dowry payments can be an incentive for poor families to marry off their young daughters.
After Tuesday's first formal reading, the bill will be scrutinised by a committee and taken back to parliament for debate after the August recess.