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Come-we-stay unions are out but dowry makes a comeback

By Allan Kisia
Updated Tuesday, July 16th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3
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By Allan Kisia

Kenya: The Marriage Bill 2013 set to be introduced in Parliament Tuesday leaves out contentious issues that were in an earlier Bill, perhaps to make it acceptable to many Kenyans.

The Marriage Bill 2012, after getting approval of the Cabinet, elicited hue and cry from majority of Kenyans who were opposed to certain sections of the proposed law.

The Bill had proposed to legalise the “come we stay” arrangement, a provision that was vehemently opposed by men across the country as thousands of people continue to live together as married couples, especially in urban areas.

Chiefs would have been empowered to register and give the force of law to the come-we-stay marriages that have lasted beyond six months in their jurisdictions. Come-we-stay is a reference to an arrangement whereby a man and woman live together as husband and wife although there is no legal recognition.

Under the Marriage Bill 2012, chiefs were empowered to issue marriage certificates for ‘come-we-stay’ affairs.

The provision was meant to be an intervention for women in marginalised regions who ordinarily would not have the means to have their marriages legally recognised due to cultural prejudices.

It was also aimed at assisting women and children who have in the past been disinherited after the death of their husbands and fathers because there had been no formal marriage.

The Marriage Bill 2013 states that there will be an appointment of director of marriage and marriage officers. It further states the marriage director will register all unions, perform civil nuptials and issue certificates for registered marriages and determine rules governing customary marriages.

“The director may appoint such marriage officers at national and county levels,” the Bill notes.

Bride price

Another controversial provision of the Marriage Bill 2012 was the proposed ban on bride price payment, which is paid by the groom or his family to the bride’s parents upon their marriage.

The Marriage Bill 2013 makes dowry payment optional and it states “where the payment of dowry is required to prove a marriage under customary law, the payment of a token amount of dowry shall be sufficient to prove a customary marriage.”

The Bill further says a marriage under customary law shall be celebrated in accordance with the customs of the communities of one or both of the parties to the intended marriage.

It defines “dowry” as any token of stock, goods, moneys or other property given or promised in consideration of an intended marriage.

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