By TSHEGO LEPULE
Cape Town – The government has new plans to consolidate the country’s existing marriage policy, which will legally recognise a variety of nuptials.
It will also look at banning teenage marriages and introducing stricter rules for marrying foreigners.
The Department of Home Affairs is consulting with different stakeholders before drafting what Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says should be an inclusive marriage regime based on equality, non-discrimination and human dignity.
Currently, three different pieces of legislation govern legal unions in South Africa: the Marriage Act of 1961 for monogamous, opposite-sex marriages, the Customary Marriage Act of 1998 that recognises polygamy, as well as the Civil Union Act of 2006 for monogamous partnership for either same-sex or opposite-sex couples. However, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish marriages are still not recognised under any of these laws.
“The reason we want to change the current marriage policy is because it is wrong, and it is not working for South Africans,” said Motsoaledi.
“And none of the three (policies) recognise Muslim, Hindu or Jewish marriages or the marriages in traditional royal families. We can’t go on excluding so many people.”
Motsoaledi was speaking at a consultative meeting with religious and traditional leaders in Cape Town this week which raised concerns over what a new marriage policy could mean for different sectors.
“At the present moment, there is no law in the country that stops children from getting married. Parents give the wrong consent at times for when they want money and sell their daughter to get a herd of cattle,” explained Motsoaledi.
“Parliament ratified it in 2013, but we never put a practical law to stop it. Part of this new law must stop young people from getting married. It must be illegal.”
Dr Dawood Terblanche of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) said the fight for the recognition of Muslim marriages had been protracted, with the proposed Muslim Marriage Bill, finalised in 2010, still not signed into law.
Terblanche said a failure by the state to recognise Muslim marriages means many women do not enjoy the protection offered under customary marriage, with both marriage and divorce decrees unrecognised.
Chairperson of the SA Religious Forum Bishop Templeton Mbekwa said new laws were needed to address diversity.
“With customary marriages being recognised as legal marriages, it still leaves a gap as there is also vat en sit (cohabitation), which has a lot of unintended consequences where a couple does this for 20 years and there are children involved,” he said.
“Our women are not protected by the laws, and there must be legislation of how to better your vat en sit.
“With foreign marriages, these are happening whether they are legal or not, and as religious leaders, we are charging almost R15000 for them to get married. It is wrong.”
Motsoaledi said with thousands of fraudulent marriages taking place in the country every year, it was important to strengthen the law.
“Between April last year and June this year, there were reports of 2132 fraudulent marriages, and when we checked, 1160 were truly fraudulent, with women being married without their knowledge by marriage officials in Home Affairs and the religious sector. We need to stop these fraudulent marriages with this new law,” he said.