EDITORIAL: A case for registration of customary marriage

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With the national attention now fully focussed on the countdown to the August 8 General Election, another matter that is also bound to have a fundamental impact on the lives of Kenyans is not getting sufficient attention.

This is the requirement that all the customary marriages be registered. From August 1, chiefs will have a major say in a matter that has been happening with little or no government involvement.

An official document will be issued, certifying couples are, indeed, in a customary marriage.

The question that arises is why the drastic change now in a matter that has for generations worked so effortlessly.

The traditional set-up involves payment of bride price and has a mechanism for dispute resolution.

Some might even see the new requirements as further evidence of undue government interference in people’s lives.

However, those who have in the past been confronted with the difficulty of having to prove marriage will welcome this.

It has, of course, been motivated by the need to streamline and enhance the process.

It will also enable the government to have an accurate record of married couples.

Under customary marriage, there is a system for the dissolution of unions that sometimes proves difficult to implement.

With registration, a customary marriage will now be dissolved in court, increasing the threshold of fairness, especially in dealing with property rights.

This new process will apply to couples who have not solemnised their unions through religious rites or the Attorney-General’s chambers.

It will confirm a couple are staying together as man and wife.

A June 9 Kenya Gazette notice by the Attorney-General’s office is coming into effect, with a certificate that will cost Sh3,900.

It will be crucial for banks, insurance firms and other entities when in need of customers’ proof of marriage.

However, to qualify for the certificate, the parties will still be required to complete customary rites and give a notice to the Registrar of Marriages of their intention to register their marriage after three months.

The registrar will then display the notice in public, inviting anyone who has any objection to come up.

Because customary marriage allows polygamy, the man will have to disclose his other unions.

August 1 is a key moment in the enforcement of the Marriage Act of May 2014, compelling the registration of all marriages.

This, however, is not a deadline, but the beginning date for the vital customary marriage registration.

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