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 8:25 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Action needs to be taken immediately before affected states potentially collapse, says campaigner Bob Geldof.
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Thomas Malthus famously predicted that rising populations would create a food crunch: Could this be true?
updated 6:33 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
From "Sick Man of Europe" to the world's fourth largest economy.
updated 8:18 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
updated 7:18 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Australian PM Tony Abbott vows to "shirt-front" Russia's Putin over the MH17 disaster.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Serbia and Albania try to play but the major game is called off after a drone flying a political flag enters the stadium.
updated 7:36 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
George Clooney's new wife, is now Amal Clooney, raising the issue of married names.
updated 1:57 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
The mysterious unmanned X-37B space plane returns to Earth after more than two years in space. But the U.S. Air force isn't saying much.
updated 12:55 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Public health experts are asking whether the CDC is getting the wrong message out.
updated 11:41 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
It's no longer necessary to launch your startup in Silicon Valley -- thanks to the internet, you can do it anywhere.
updated 5:00 AM EDT, Wed October 8, 2014
From a "democracy wall" to a towering "Umbrella man" statue, see the best art from the massive protests in Hong Kong.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT