Kenyan polygamy law: Female MPs storm out of parliament

A Kenyan couple kissing at their wedding in Tayana gardens in Nairobi, 3 September 2013

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Female MPs in Kenya have stormed out of a late-night parliamentary session in a row over the legalisation of polygamy.

The law is intended to bring civil law, where a man is only allowed one wife, into line with customary law, where some cultures allow multiple partners.

But male MPs voted to amend the new marriage bill to allow men to take as many wives as they like without consulting existing spouses.

Traditionally, first wives are supposed to give prior approval.

Kenya's marriage bill

  • Bans marriage for those under 18
  • All marriages - even customary unions - must be registered
  • Legalises polygamy, allowing men to marry without consulting other spouses
  • A woman entitled to 30% of matrimonial property
  • Specifies that marriage is between a man and a woman, but does not explicitly ban custom of an infertile woman marrying a younger woman
  • Proposals dropped: Banning bride price payments, recognising cohabiting, or "come-we-stay", relationships

Correspondents say about 30 of Kenya's 69 female MPs were in the 349-member chamber for the debate but were outnumbered by their male counterparts.

The women walked out in disgust over the matter.

The marriage bill now passes to the president to sign before it becomes law.

'This is Africa'

MP Samuel Chepkong'a, who proposed the amendment, said that when a woman got married under customary law, she understood that the marriage was open to polygamy, so no consultation was necessary, Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper reports.

Mohammed Junet, an MP representing a constituency from the western Nyanza province, agreed.

"When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa," Kenya's Capital News website quotes him as saying.

Young women from Kenya's Samburu ethnic group which has the tradition of bride prices to seal marriages If the bill becomes law, a Kenyan will have to be 18 to marry and this will apply to all cultures

But female MPs argued that such a decision would affect the whole family, including the financial position of other spouses.

"It behoves you to be man enough to agree that your wife and family should know," Capital News quotes Soipan Tuya, the women's representative from Narok County, as saying.

The BBC's Angela Ngendo in the capital, Nairobi, says the new marriage legislation has been under discussion for several years and some initial proposals were scrapped at committee stages.

Plans to ban the payment of bride prices were dropped - although a person must be 18 to marry and this will apply to all cultures.

Proposals to ensure equal property and inheritance rights were also watered down - a woman will be entitled to 30% of matrimonial property after death or divorce.

Under current Kenyan law, a woman must prove her contribution to the couple's wealth.

There was also a proposal to recognise co-habiting couples, known in Kenya as "come-we-stay" relationships, after six months, but this too was dropped.

It would have allowed a woman to seek maintenance for herself and any children of the union had the man left.

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