Skip to main content

New Kenya law legalizes polygamy; women's group applauds it

By Faith Karimi and Lillian Leposo, CNN
updated 5:41 AM EDT, Thu May 1, 2014
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta said the new law defines various types of marriages.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta said the new law defines various types of marriages.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The bill initially allowed the first wife the right to veto husband's choice of additional spouses
  • Male members of parliament successfully pushed to get that clause dropped
  • Now the first wife has no say

(CNN) -- A new law that went into effect in Kenya this week makes it legal for a man to marry as many women as he wants. And a leading women's group is applauding it.

President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the polygamy measure into law Tuesday, formally recognizing what has long been a cultural practice in the nation.

Parliament passed the bill in March despite protests from female lawmakers who angrily stormed out of the late-night session at the time.

The bill initially allowed the first wife the right to veto the husband's choice of additional spouses. Male members of parliament successfully pushed to get that clause dropped.

"We are happy with the law because finally all marriages are being treated equally."
Christine Ochieng, executive director of Federation of Women Lawyers

"Marriage is the voluntary union of a man and a woman whether in a monogamous or polygamous union," Kenyatta said in a statement. "The Marriage Act 2014 defines various types of marriages including monogamous, polygamous, customary, Christian, Islamic and Hindu marriages."

No limit on number of wives

The law legalizes polygamous unions, but does not provide an official limit on the number of wives a man can have.

The Federation of Women Lawyers, a powerful women's rights group, applauded aspects of the bill and criticized others.

Polygamy already is a common fixture among many cultures in Kenya and in some other African countries.

The bill, the group said, is long overdue because polygamous unions were previously not regarded as equal to regular marriages.

"We are happy with the law because finally all marriages are being treated equally," said Christine Ochieng, executive director of the nation's Federation of Women Lawyers.

"All marriages will be issued with marriage certificates, including customary marriages. Before this, customary marriages were treated as inferior with no marriage certificates. This opened up suffering for the women because they could not legally prove they were married to a particular man. "

First wife has no say

However, she said, the first wife should have a say in picking her husband's co-wives.

"What we are not happy about is that now a man can marry another wife or wives without the consent of the first wife," she said. "That section of the law is potentially open to abuse because a man can secretly marry other wives because he doesn't need his wife's consent to marry."

But Jane Kimani, a Nairobi resident, said the bill is archaic and has no place in modern society.

"Polygamous marriages should not even be an issue today," she said. "Kenya is moving backward instead of changing with the times."

READ: Opinion: It's time to reconsider polygamy

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT