Churches, women’s organizations, social workers, economic planners, even the government.… Many forces in Kenya have been waiting for a hint from a respectable, indisputably qualified source that polygamy is a social and economic handicap, an undesirable and outdated practice not in the national interest.
And this is precisely the spirit of the report handed President Kenyatta last month by the high-powered Commission on Marriage and Divorce. It was set up eighteen months ago to recommend, as far as practicable, a uniform marriage and divorce law for all Kenyans without discrimination against race, tribe, or religion.
As in most African countries—including those of the Muslim North—Kenya’s current statutes are a mixture of European (hence Christian), tribal, Muslim, and Hindu laws. This is why the commission’s report will be read with such interest in African capitals, and is probably why it has created such a storm in Kenya.
Polygamy may live on legally in most of Africa for another generation or two. The commission decided that a legal ban on polygamy in any of the African nations at present could cause considerable social disruption without really being effective.
But the commission’s specific recommendations give anti-polygamy forces a big advantage over their opponents. The commission—without actually outlawing polygamy—would render it nearly impossible for a man to have more than one wife by:
Giving married women equal legal standing with their husbands. Requiring compulsory registration of all marriages. Demanding in marriage the mutual consent of both—and in some cases, of only—the concerned man and woman. Making adultery and enticement criminal offenses. ...1
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