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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.

Comments

Dear Ennie,

As i read through your personal story, i kept wondering to myself, .......this sounds so familiar...I could swear i knew you and your family......until it occured to me that this is the one common story for many women in Kenya as well, and it stopped being a wonder.

How a judge would choose to pass monogamy as a different version of polygamy or accept a will that does not stand the legal test escapes me.I think it would not have mattered whether your parents marriage certificate would have indicated otherwise, neither a correct legal interpretation of the same, the result would have been more likely the same i the circumstances. The pursuit of justice for women through the legal system can only be aptly described as one long nightmare that never seems to go away. There are many legal complications, real or created, that only serve to deny women their rights. Even where the law is clear, it is misinterpreted, made obscure, or even ignored and/or corruption is used to deny women justice.

Bigamy seems to be only a crime in theory but not in practice. It may be described as a crime in the statutes but the reality is that it is perceived as socially acceptable and therefore the norm. Many men get into civil and christian marriages which are characteristically and legally monogamous but still practice polygamy. In Kenya, a few years back, a man was sentenced to 5 years in jail for bigamy and there was so much public outrage and expression of shock specially from the men, that even such a law existed.Not that this served as a deterrent anyway!

When it comes to succession and inheritance, things get murkier.What with the legal contradictions! and where the law gives with one hand and takes away with the other hand. For instance, in Kenya, the African Christian Marriage Act stipulates monogamy hence only recognises one wife. On the other hand the Succession Act recognises 'all wives and dependants' to the deceased. What the latter implies is that for as long as one is able to produce proof that they were a dependant or 'wife' to the deceased they are entitled to inherit from the deceased, it doesnt matter that the deceased had subscribed to a monogamous marriage or that the legal wife had contributed to the creation of the wealth. More often than not, when a man dies, his relatives and 'other wives' (some appear on the day of the funeral) lay a claim to the inheritance. No need to guess that the legal wife is the loser, and instead of the law protecting her, it actually facilitates a violation against her.Worse still, the legal process is tedious and takes ages and does not guarantee justice, hence women, just like your mother, choose to let go and move on with their lives.

My best wishes to your family.
Carole

Small Actions >>>> BIG Change!

ENIE NDOH CECILE's picture

So reassuring

I must say i find it so comforting to express my feelings, pain, doubts and even more satisfying and consoling for another person to undertstand in depth my actual feelings.

Carole, i lack words to express my gratitude for your comments and contribution and it is my fervent wish they should bring to book such malpractices and for more women to be aware and cautious of this legal pranks.

I wish you all the best and God's Speed
Cecile

Y's picture

Dear Cecile, I believe that

Dear Cecile,
I believe that all marriages should have prenuptial agreements, with each participant represented by an attorney representing only the interest of his or her client. I also belie\ve that clergy should never be allowed to perform binding of legal contracts.

Yvette

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