21 March 2014

Kenya: Uproar As MPs Pass Bill Promoting Polygamy

Photo: Michael Kaloki/RNW
Anger over Kenya's new Marriage Bill (file photo).

Nairobi — Members of the National Assembly extended Thursday's sitting to pass controversial amendments to the Marriage Bill despite spirited opposition from female MPs. Male MPs ganged up to delete the clause that had required a husband in a customary marriage to seek consent from his wife before marrying a second wife.

MPs also deleted a clause that required a partner who had promised marriage to pay damages. Emotions ran high during the debate, with male MPs supporting the clause saying it could be used to extort money from men in the country.

MPs Aden Duale, Jakoyo Midiwo and Junet Mohammed said it was against tradition to seek consent to marry a second wife and claimed their female colleagues had an ulterior motive in trying to push for the clause. "I want my Christian brothers to read the Old Testament, King David and King Solomon never consulted anybody to marry a second wife," said Duale.

"When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife... this is Africa," added Suna East MP Junet. Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali told the House: "I am a son of the second wife of my father, if this Bill was in place, I would not be in this world."

"The reason why men are jittery is because these people want to take our wealth," Jakoyo stated. However, female MPs passionately opposed the deletion of the clause saying many families could be affected financially as a second wife might claim all the wealth after the demise of the husband.

"We know that men are afraid of women's tongues more than anything else, but at the end of the day if you are the man of the house, and you choose to bring on another party (and they may be two or three) I think it behooves you to be man enough to agree that your wife and family should know," Narok County Woman Representative Sopian Tuya said.

Nominated Bishop Robert Mutemi added: "In a marriage a man and wife are one and the same, so you must inform your wife when you are going to take a second wife."

The MPs also deleted a clause that had required a partner who had promised marriage to pay damages.

In deleting the amendment, the MPs said courting should be about love and not tied to monetary gains.

The debate was characterized by religious undertones and at one time the Leader of Majority Aden Duale threatened to walk out the House if his amendments were not carried.

He threatened to walk out of chamber after his amendment to scrap compulsory registration of marriages was defeated.

The Garissa Town MP had also proposed an amendment not to set the age of marriage as that would affect Islamic marriages, an amendment that was also rejected by the House.

During Thursday's extended sitting amendments to the Marriage Bill also ensured that people of the same sex do not get married in Kenya.

Justice and Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Samuel Chepkonga moved the amendment to the Bill to remove a clause that had recommended that marriage of people of any other faith and beliefs could also be recognised, a clause MPs said could be abused.

MPs have made it mandatory for those who want to stop a Christian marriage to put their reasons in writing despite opposition from other MPs that it might discriminate against Kenyans who don't know how to write but have valid reasons to stop the intended marriage.

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