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Religion holds up marriage law debate

Wednesday March 19 2014

The National Assembly in session. An organisation has started a process that will culminate in the awarding of MPs voted as the best performers in Parliament.  FILE PHOTO |

The National Assembly in session. An organisation has started a process that will culminate in the awarding of MPs voted as the best performers in Parliament. FILE PHOTO |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

JOHN NGIRACHU
By JOHN NGIRACHU
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Debate on the Marriage Bill was put on hold on Wednesday evening after disagreements over religion.

The MPs had agreed they would only go home once the job was finished, but differences cropped up after debate started at 6.30 pm.

Majority Leader Aden Duale spelt out a raft of changes he plans to introduce to protect Muslims.

“All my amendments touch on Islamic Law. This law is meant for all Kenyans and I wouldn’t want that to be a setback to the law,” he said.

TAKEN CARE OF

But Samuel Chepkong’a, the chairman of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, said that had been taken care of by ensuring that any part of the law that is inconsistent with Islamic Law wouldn’t apply to Muslim marriages.

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Mr Duale insisted that all his proposed changes would have to be looked at individually.

He then added that with less than 20 members in the chambers, it wouldn’t make much sense to debate the Bill.

The Marriage Bill seeks to combine seven laws on marriage, divorce and come-we-stay unions. It also recognises polygamy and the payment of dowry for customary marriages. It was introduced in July 2013 and is now in the final stage — the Third Reading — in the National Assembly. (READ: Polygamy is a hotbed of marital discord)

Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo agreed and said that “both sides of the House have issues with the law.”

“The immediate effect of this Bill is breaking up of marriages. The way I see it, this Bill is sponsored by foreigners,” said Mr Midiwo.

But Nairobi County MP Rachel Shebesh said “insecure and chauvinistic men” wanted to shelve the Bill.

Ruaraka MP Tom Kajwang’, who was presiding over the discussion, was convinced to postpone debate.

Among the changes Mr Duale suggested was that Islamic Law would determine the minimum age for marriage.

The Bill states that those marrying must be 18 years or older.

The Justice and Legal Affairs Committee had feared that if allowed, some of Mr Duale’s proposals could open the way for child marriages.

SHIELDING MUSLIMS

The Marriage Bill was scheduled for debate on Tuesday afternoon but was put off because the changes proposed by Mr Duale had not been scrutinised.

Mr Duale wants Muslim marriages shielded from the conversion of a marriage from a monogamous to a polygamous one, possibly because Islam allows a man to marry up to four wives.

He also seeks to protect Muslims from being barred from marrying an adopted person.

Mr Duale also proposes that Islamic Law is used to determine when a marriage is dissolved, the grounds for annulment and the custody and maintenance of children after a marriage is annulled.