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A COMPLICATED MARRIAGE CLAUSE

I have been bugged always by a certain marriage clause in my country which I find quite senseless.
I once followed a female program on TV and this lady who is a Magistrate mentioned this issue and warned women to be prudent and to take time in reading the clauses of their marriage certificate before signing, that’s when I knew what has been bugging me was somewhat not particular.

My five siblings and I the last were born to well to do parents who had great love for each other and brought us up in the so called Western standard. Meaning we spend some weekends at the beach or going swimming in the club pool, celebrate birthdays and Christmas by throwing or attending parties, travelling for holidays – we had once a family trip to Nigeria with our personal vehicle to visit an aunt, we had indoor games like table tennis, playing cards, Ludo, Chinese Checker etc, we had pets – animals, birds and an aquarium, house servants and life generally was great and because of our lifestyle people referred to us as ‘White Children’. In Cameroon many are naïve and belief every white color person is rich so they live a good life. Many are not even aware that Western nations equally have lower class citizens, beggars, street and homeless people too.

Well, things turned sour and bizarre when my father, an Estate Manager for the giant Agro Industrial Corporation in Cameroon known as the CDC was transferred to a remote place. Actually my parents got married when my father was 23 years already working with the CDC and my mother was age 18yrs a teacher who had graduated from a teacher training institution since teaching was regarded as a prestigious profession at the time and she also became an international Girl Guide Trainer.

Due to our rich volcanic soil, CDC was established by our British Colonial Masters, cultivating cash crops -palms and rubber and at the time the Corporation was being managed by Whites. When they eventually left people like my father rose to top management positions.

In the mid seventies, where my father was transferred to we could not go and live with him because of our education and bad road. The place had a lone public school and the standard was not for us, and apart from the distance the road was then too bad for us to drive to school, although the bigger ones in secondary school where attending mission boarding schools, so my parents agreed we shall stay back in the town where we where but go to our father during weekends and holidays, while some weekends he comes down too.
This arrangement went on smoothly until later.

Apparently, my parents met and got married in the fifties and our first born now of blessed memory was born in 1958. They had a monogamous marriage. After more than twenty years of marriage my father started changing, he was refraining from being the lovable and caring dad, ignoring most of his responsibilities. We got to discover, when we went visiting, he was not just seeing another woman but they were now living together and had a son. Worst of all they were married, but how could he marry again when he had a monogamous marriage and had not divorced my mom?

Things were really going out of hand to the extent that our first born whom my parents had sent to England to pursue her education after her secondary education he stopped paying her tuition. She was already a second year Chemical Engineering student. The matter eventually went to court for a legal address. This is when we had a bombshell, instead of my father to be charged with bigamy, we came to realize a strange clause.

It would seem my father as he claimed lost their original marriage certificate. This they had before Cameroon’s independence in 1960, then Cameroon was under colonial rule. So according to him he had to redo a copy of their marriage certificated. This time they wrote ‘monogamy under native law and customs’. And the court interprets it as polygamy.

This I find quite absurd. I should think in any marriage certificate, it should be clearly spelled out if it is either monogamy or polygamy.
I am equally aware that in Cameroon marriage is usually done in three phases – the introduction known as ‘Knock Door’ followed by a traditional marriage, then marriage in the Civil Statues Registry (Court Marriage) and the church wedding. My parents did all three.

The issue is my father was not charged with bigamy because the corrupt judge claimed the clause ‘monogamy under native law and custom’ is polygamy, following our native law and custom a man is entitled to more than one wife. And that was the end of the matter.

After my dad passed away a few years later at the age of 54, the woman he married whom at the time had three kids with my father pulled a fast one on us by producing a fake will. Why fake is because we recognized the signature was not the way my father signs his signature and before his death he was bedridden and we believed this is how the lady got to his private drawer and destroyed the original will. We also did not understand how the will was not with a lawyer. However, she successfully took all the valuable assets for herself and children – cars, houses, lands etc and these are things my parents jointly acquired. And again this went through another corrupt court decision. This was not even her first marriage; she had other kids with her first husband whom we learnt she left because he was not rich.

The few smaller assets acknowledged in the will belongs to my two brothers my paternal aunts equally deprived them, one moved with her family into the property while another collected the rents of the other smaller house also claiming my father had given her. Today my mum and her children can boast only of one house where we live in till date. But my siblings and I just let it go. My mother on her own has landed properties now but we the children are determined to make a success of our own lives rather than struggling to claim our rights by fighting over our father’s possessions.

I decided to share this personal story so that it could be seen how certain misinterpretations of the law and corruption have an impact and also how certain laws are lax for the men for I believed if my mom was the one accused of bigamy the court decision would have had a more serious outcome.

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