|Want second wife? MPs now change mind on permission from number one.|
By WILFRED AYAGA
Kenya: Members of the National Assembly want to amend the Marriage Bill to remove what they see as a final barrier to polygamy.
The offending clause for male MPs is Section 44 of the Bill, which proposes that under customary law, men should seek the consent of their spouses before marrying a second wife.
The Bill passed through its second reading in the House Wednesday, even as controversy raged over how much say women should have on their husbands’ choice to get them co-wives.
Although the Bill has wide ranging provisions touching on marriage, the clause on polygamy has assumed a life of its own, with debate in the House and in the public zeroing in on the controversial clause. During debate last week, the chairman of the National Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee Mr Samuel Chepkonga said they had considered an array of opinions before the decision to introduce the amendment that may see the controversial clause deleted when week, the chairman of the National Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee, Samuel Chepkonga, said they had considered an array of opinions before the decision to introduce the amendment that may see the controversial clause deleted when the Bill comes before the Committee of the Whole House.
Predictably, the reaction during debate was sharp and immediate, with mostly male MPs supporting the amendment, terming the consent clause “impractical and unrealistic” in the context of African culture.
Among them was Westlands MP Timothy Wanyonyi who told the House that it would be unrealistic to expect the modern woman to give her consent in such cases.
“I do not think this is practical because modern women will not give consent to this, and this is why in most cases you will find that men are defined as potentially polygamous.”
He also took issue with a clause that imposes a five-year sentence on any man who goes ahead to marry a second wife without the consent of the first wife. Wanyonyi termed the penalty too harsh and proposed that it be reduced to six months.
He argued that a woman could give consent and later change her mind.
But Kiambu Woman Representative Anne Nyokabi defended the clause by highlighting the issue of “other” families emerging on the death of men who were thought to be in monogamous unions.
She told the House that the consent clause would stem the tide of secret marriages.
“When a woman and a man contract a marriage we expect as women that you are getting into a monogamous situation when you have a marriage in a church, but many times you find that when the husbands are six feet under, there are five or six different parallel families,” Nyokabi told the House.
Also at the centre of the debate on the contentious clause is the issue of property. During the debate, Kilome MP Regina Muia told the House that the consent clause would protect first wives who risk losing shared property.
“All the time, women are victims. They have no property. You marry and after some time you think that you can divorce that woman and you go and look for another person,” she said in reference to men.
Muia added: “This Bill is favouring men only. It is like women do not exist and we are there only to bear children and nothing else. We do not play any part in these families. I disagree with the Bill,” she said.
The debate has also drawn the interest of the public and other opinion shapers.
Maendeleo ya Wanaume Organisation Chairman Nderitu Njoka has termed the debate “superfluous”, arguing that requiring a man to seek the consent of his first wife before taking another wife is akin to blocking him from practising polygamy.
“There is no woman in the world who would allow her husband to take a second wife,” Njoka told The Standard on phone.
According to Njoka, polygamy for an African man is “a right”.
“The Constitution should not even talk about polygamy. Over 90 per cent of men are polygamous,” Njoka said.
MPs opposing the amendment claimed that people get into marriages as monogamous relationships and argued that such unions should not be “hijacked” without the consent of the wife.
Taveta MP Naomi Shaban also said she supports the Bill and told fellow women that they should not fear giving consent based on fears over sharing of property.
“People do not have any reason to worry when their spouses come to inform them that they are going to get another wife. It is easier and more acceptable because they know that their matrimonial property is protected,” she told the House.
Njoka concurred, saying the issue of property should not be an important consideration. He argued that the issue of sharing of property is clearly defined in the Matrimonial Property Bill.
Among other provisions of the Marriage Bill are the procedures of objection in the event that there is opposition to two people getting married. It also sets out general principles for dealing with matrimonial disputes.
Nakuru East MP David Gikaria said he would support the Bill “for the benefit of my daughters whom I know one day will get married and they will be protected by this law once it comes into effect”.
Men who violate the consent clause are liable to a jail term of five years.