All things being equal, Kenyan government might soon make a law which will ban the payment of bride price, legalise polygamy and allow couples to co-habit for a certain period after which they will be considered legally married.
The controversial proposals have been approved by the cabinet, but will not become law until passed by parliament. As an excuse for this proposal, the cabinet said the bill aimed to offer legal protection to all forms of marriages in the country – Christian, Islamic, Hindu, civil and traditional; it is intended to give women and children protection under the law.
BBC’s Muliro Telewa in the capital, Nairobi, says the decision to stop the age-old custom of bride price is one of the most contentious of the proposals to harmonise the East African nation’s marriage laws. Bride prices are commonly paid by most of Kenya’s more than 40 ethnic groups. Current customary law stipulates that a marriage is not considered legal unless a bride price has been paid, usually in the form of cows.
Even couples married in a religious or civil ceremony will often not be considered bound in the traditional sense by their families unless a payment is made. Also, under the new proposals, co-habiting couples in what are known in Kenya as “come-we-stay” relationships will be considered married after a six-month period.
The proposals on legalising polygamy are intended to bring civil law – where a man is only allowed one wife – in line with customary law where some cultures allow for multiple partners. This will also give women protection under the law from being abandoned by so-called “serial polygamists”.