Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Clause on spouses’ equality struck out

Gichugu MP Martha Karua and nominated MP Millie Odhiambo leave the conference room at Great Rift Valley Lodge, Naivasha, where the Parliamentary Select Committee is discussing the draft constitution. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE

Gichugu MP Martha Karua and nominated MP Millie Odhiambo leave the conference room at Great Rift Valley Lodge, Naivasha, where the Parliamentary Select Committee is discussing the draft constitution. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE 

By OLIVER MATHENGE and ALPHONCE SHIUNDU

MPs meeting in Naivasha on Tuesday voted to deny women equal rights to men in marriage.

Members of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the review process also refused to cushion the civil society and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights in the new constitution.

Clauses referring to religious groups under this chapter, which they described as bulky, were also struck out.

The MPs, on the second day of their meeting, were debating the chapter on the Bill of Rights which they were unable to conclude on Monday. They agreed to eliminate from the draft constitution a clause that was likely to pave the way for gay marriages.

The 26-member team, which is navigating through the draft constitution, felt the chapter was too detailed with some of the lawmakers describing some of the provisions as redundant and inherently activist.

“We overwhelmingly feel that the CoE was overly influenced by NGOs in drafting the chapter. It is not logical to have issues such as rights to water, housing and food,” said a member who sought anonymity.

Among other proposals, the chapter proposes that every person has a right to social security, health, founding a family, housing, food, clean water, safe environment, access to quality goods and services, and efficient administrative action.

On Tuesday, MPs who debated the chapter for more than five hours, voted to delete sub-clause 42(4) which sought to guarantee women and men equal rights at the onset, during and at the dissolution of a marriage.

The decision was reached in spite of protests from women members of the PSC. The committee comprises five women members and 21 men.

Same sex

The clause states: “Parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of the marriage, during the marriage and at the dissolution of the marriage.”

They rejected another sub-clause which sought to guarantee every adult the right to start a marriage. Members argued the clause was a loophole that could be exploited by proponents of same sex marriages.

Sub-clause 42 (3) says: “Every adult has the right to found a family.” It is ironical that this open-ended sub-clause comes after one that outlaws gay marriages.

Other losers on day two of the six-day retreat were civil society organisations, religious groups and the KNCHR. The MPs are said to have decided that all references to the civil society should be removed and that a provision anchoring the KNCHR in the constitution be removed.

“There was consensus that there was no need to have the commission in the constitution since it was already established under an Act of Parliament,” one of PSC members said.

They also decided that any reference to the civil society should be deleted from the chapter and in any other reference to its role in the running of government.

Outlaw abortion

The PSC also declined to insert a clause indicating at what stage life begins. Religious groups have been asking that the new constitution stipulates that life starts at conception to outlaw abortion.

The PSC is said to have decided that all rights deemed as unenforceable should not be in the constitution.

Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs minister Mutula Kilonzo asked for patience from the public. He said the issues being discussed were pertinent and told the media to “accept the committee’s pace.”

“We cannot rush these things… we have to ensure we deliver a good document,” Mr Kilonzo said.

According to the programme, the committee should have cleared the first seven chapters on Monday, but it only managed the first four chapters.

The committee is thus one day behind schedule, with much of the time yesterday being spent on the chapter on the Bill of Rights.