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Kenya legalizes polygamy without wife’s consent

Turkana women gather outside a water installation in Koriabok, north of Lodwar (Turkana region) on March 13, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI)

NAIROBI: Kenya’s parliament has passed a bill allowing men to marry as many women as they want, prompting a furious backlash from female lawmakers who stormed out, reports said Friday.

The bill, which amended existing marriage legislation, was passed late Thursday to formalize customary law about marrying more than one person.

The proposed bill had initially given a wife the right to veto the husband’s choice, but male members of parliament overcame party divisions to push through a text that dropped this clause.

“When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way, and a third wife. ... This is Africa,” MP Junet Mohammed told the house, according to Nairobi’s Capital FM.

As in many parts of Africa, polygamy is common among traditional communities in Kenya, as well as among the country’s Muslim community, which accounts for up to a fifth of the population.

Female MPs stormed out of the late-night session in fury after a heated debate.

“We know that men are afraid of women’s tongues more than anything else,” female legislator Soipan Tuya told fellow MPs. “But at the end of the day, if you are the man of the house, and you choose to bring on another party – and they may be two or three – I think it behooves you to be man enough to agree that your wife and family should know.”

Parliamentary majority leader Aden Duale, a Muslim, said that men marrying more than one woman was part of the Islamic faith but also highlighted biblical stories.

“I want my Christian brothers to read the Old Testament – King David and King Solomon never consulted anybody to marry a second wife,” Duale told the house.

Women are not allowed to marry more than one man in Kenya.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 22, 2014, on page 9.

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Summary

Kenya's parliament has passed a bill allowing men to marry as many women as they want, prompting a furious backlash from female lawmakers who stormed out, reports said Friday.

The bill, which amended existing marriage legislation, was passed late Thursday to formalize customary law about marrying more than one person.

As in many parts of Africa, polygamy is common among traditional communities in Kenya, as well as among the country's Muslim community, which accounts for up to a fifth of the population.


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