, NAIROBI, Kenya Aug 27 – Women rights lobby groups want clauses allowing for co-habitation between couples reinstated in the Marriage Bill before it is passed into law.
The Bill which is expected to be debated by the National Assembly when it resumes sittings after a month-long recess on September 17, initially contained the clause but it was removed after it was flagged as being contentious.
The unions commonly referred to as ‘come-we-stay’ usually arise where a man and a woman commence living together as husband and wife and even have children without formalising of their marriage.
The unions appear to be prevalent and more so among youngsters in urban areas, despite the fact that they have faced religious condemnation.
Family Law Advocate Judy Thongori notes that many Kenyans are now ‘married’ in this manner and the situation can no longer be ignored or wished away.
“We have written to the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly saying that it is an absolute necessity that we have it in the Bill,” she said. “It has been there under Common Law and it is the kind of thing we should carry forward.”
Thongori sought to allay fears that the institution of marriage is under threat because of the proposals in the Bill.
“It is not that the marriage institution is under threat; it has metamophosised. It has changed with the times.”
“Part of the responsibility that we have to ask ourselves is what is it that we can gain from the environment we exist in with which we can infuse other laws so that they answer to the modern requirement of marriage without losing the values that go with them,” she added.
If the lobbies have their way then chiefs will be empowered to register and give the force of law to the ‘come-we-stay’ marriages that have lasted beyond six months in their jurisdictions.
The groups also want couples to be able to claim ‘irreconcilable differences’ as grounds for seeking divorce.
“We are also thinking of no-fault divorce or irreconcilable differences that we need to make the weight of divorcing or dissolution of marriages less heavy on parties so that they don’t to same all the negative things when they come to court,” the lawyer said.
The groups; Africa Unite, Joint Programme on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment and UN Women appealed to Members of the National Assembly to pass the Marriage Bill because it offers the country a comprehensive legal framework that will govern marriages.
“The Bill is not starting from a clean slate; it is simply codifying what exists; nothing is being changed,” Thongori added.
“We are saying if you have it in one booklet and not in seven Acts of Parliament then you have gone a long way to make it more accessible to your citizens who can read it and understand it with no contradictions.”