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The Kenya Marriage Act: Major Gains for Women in the Parliamentary Marriage Bill
Recently, Kenya had a lot of men complain online and offline about a marriage bill which is meant to bring together all marriage related laws,customs and also strengthen women’s rights in marriage.The bill was introduced in parliament on Tuesday(16/07/2013) and it provoked an uproar from men who said it was punitive and should not therefore be passed by parliament.
Below are some reasons why men in Kenya panicked over the bill.
You’ll be sued for failing to fulfill marriage promise/pledge
The major clause that has aroused a heated debate and also anger among men is the declaration that when one party refuses to honor a promise to marry,then he/she should pay damages to the party who has suffered loss as a result of the promise being broken.
This means that if a man fails to marry someone's daughter after making a promising to marry her,then he will be charged in court.However, the aggrieved party will have to convince the court that the promise was made.They will also be required to prove that they suffered damages as a result of the promise not being fulfilled.
The Bill provides in Section 74 that partners who feel like they have suffered damage as a result of a broken promise by the other party can seek compensation,even though the promise to marry wasn’t legally binding.
Is there anything wrong with the bill or are Kenyan men just afraid of commitments/Marriage?
Other major gains for women in the marriage bill
Sometimes Kenyan women only find out that their husbands were married to a second wife during a funeral and had children with the second wife thereby leading to inheritance disputes.
Many couples often marry under customary law which involves payment of dowry by the man to the woman's family and performance of a ceremony.The bill provides that a certificate should be issued when such a marriage takes place.It therefore reduces the chances of women being excluded from inheritance or being neglected by their husbands due to lack of proof of marriage.
The marriage bill also proposes that polygamy under Muslim or customary marriages should be recognized legally as long as the the man and his first wife had agreed that their marriage is polygamous.
Polygamy however would not be allowed in Christian or civil marriages and those who entered into a second marriage could be fined 300,000 Kenya Shillings which is approximately $3500 or face a jail term of five years.
A lot of women’s rights groups have supported the bill because it protects a lot of women’s rights such as right to matrimonial property and protection of second or the younger wives.The husband is expected to treat both wives equally.The law protects women who are often abandoned after their partner brings in other women.
The bill also sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 hence protecting young girls from being forcefully married off which is a common practice in some communities.Marrying an underage person could lead to a jail term of five years and/or a fine of 1million Kenya shillings($11,500).
After Tuesday's first formal reading, the bill will be scrutinized by a committee and taken back to parliament for debate after the August recess.What to Expect From the New Marriage Bill
The Kenya marriage bill has brought many rections from men and women from all over Kenya.The bill which is set as a tool to revolutionalise the marriage institution and to also protect the rights of spouses,seeks to introduce new laws and concepts that did not previously exist.
The bill sets out the individuals who should be involved in a marriage.It emphasizes that marriage,whether monogamous or polygamous should be voluntarily and between a man and woman.
It also provides that during marriage and dissolution of marriage,parties to the marriage have equal rights.Whereas people often think that some marriages eg church marriages are superior to other marriages like customary marriages,the bill provides that all marriages registered under the marriage act will have equal legal status and none is superior.
The bill has also codified customary marriages which were previously in any legislation and yet they were still recognized as valid marriages.The bill has now recognized the existence of customary marriages and has also laid procedures which will be followed in customary marriages.
Unlike in the past where the director of marriages was not involved in the conduct customary marriages,the bill for instance under section 43 provides that parties to a customary marriage need to inform the director about the marriage within three months after the customary ceremonies.
If a man wants to bring in other wives,Sec 44 provides that the other wives have to be consulted and the notification should include whether the current wives have approved or disapproved of the intended marriage.This means that there has to be consent from the other wives before a marriage is conducted.
In the past,there were no marriage certificates for customary marriages but the new marriage bill has introduced the insuance of certificates for customary marriages after the parties have completed the necessary rituals for their union