NAIROBI – The Kenyan parliament has issued a new bill allowing men to marry more than one wife, sparking a backlash from female lawmakers who stormed out of the session.
“When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way, and a third wife... this is Africa,” MP Junet Mohammed told the house, AFP reported, citing Nairobi's Capital FM.
The new bill, issued last Thursday, amends existing marriage legislation, formalizing a customary law applied in different African countries.
It has also removed an article allowing wives to veto the second marriage.
As the debate flared in the house, female lawmakers pulled out of Thursday's session over rejecting the new polygamy law.
“We know that men are afraid of women's tongues more than anything else,” female legislator Soipan Tuya told fellow MPs, according to Capital FM.
“But at the end of the day, if you are the man of the house, and you choose to bring on another party -- and they may be two or three -- I think it behoves you to be man enough to agree that your wife and family should know,” she added.
Like many African countries, polygamy is enshrined by customary laws that allow the man to have more than one wife.
“Any time a man comes home with a woman, that would be assumed to be a second or third wife,” said Samuel Chepkong'a, chairman of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, the Daily Nation newspaper reported.
“Under customary law, women or wives you have married do not need to be told when you're coming home with a second or third wife. Any lady you bring home is your wife,” he added.
As women lawmakers vehemently reject the bill, a Muslim lawmaker argued that polygamy is justified for Muslim and Christians alike, urging MPs to read the Bible.
“I want my Christian brothers to read the Old Testament -- King David and King Solomon never consulted anybody to marry a second wife,” said Parliamentary majority leader Aden Duale, a Muslim MP.
There are nearly ten million Muslims in Kenya, which has a population of 36 million.
Muslims make up nearly 98% of the communities of the North Eastern Province.
In Islam, marriage is a sacred bond that brings together a man and a woman by virtue of the teachings of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
Each partner in this sacred relationship must treat the other properly and with respect.
Islam sees polygamy as a realistic answer to some social woes like adulterous affairs and lamentable living conditions of a widow or a divorced woman.
A Muslim man who seeks a second or a third wife should, however, make sure that he would treat them all on an equal footing, even in terms of compassion.
The Noble Qur'an says that though polygamy is lawful it is very hard for a man to guarantee such fairness.
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