By Charles Okecha
Last week there were several media reports about female protagonists seeking for a separate law on cohabitation permitting its recognition as a marriage after 10 years.
Whereas it would have been men to advocate for this as a way of evading cultural obligations to fulfill the customary marriage requirements of giving gifts or ‘paying’ bride price, it is a big surprise that women are pushing for it.
Their argument is that men are reluctant or not willing to enter into lawful marriage. Usually what makes a well-able man to shy away from his in-laws is the conduct of his spouse towards him and or his relatives. Unless women are willing redress this, no amount of legislation will restraint men from doing otherwise.
Their demand from a falcon’s eye viewpoint arouses many questions and anomalies:-
1. Have the ladies in question or their intimate colleagues scaled the climax of their careers without getting suitable spouses and are now in dire need of off-setting this reproach or bearing children?
This could pose a great danger to youths especially students likely to be unknowingly ensnared/coerced into marriage via the channel of cohabitation. The married men jokingly flirting with them in the work place, drinking places and parties could suddenly disintegrate their families.
2. What parameters of age or marital status should determine those eligible for cohabitation? In such situation unscrupulous married men/women shall keep fleeing from one spouse to another so as to settle in search for a ‘stress free’ marriage with new spouses.
Students or the under aged could equally pair-up and fall prey to this practice, with the hope of maturing and ending in marriage thus driving defilement rates to unprecedented proportions.
3. Another scenario likely to arise is cross-generational marriages where the aged cohabit with the young. Since wealth/income increases with age, the young will cohabit with the old targeting a share of their wealth. It is reported that this is a common practice in some developed countries where men fear to commit themselves into marriage to protect their wealth.
4. Cohabiting does not put into account many women who are not able to maintain their families single handedly. After bearing children, she will bear the brunt of their upbringing alone if the man flees before the expiry of the cohabitation period.
At such moment the splendor of her beauty has vanished increasing her stakes of remaining a single mother the rest of her life.
5. In this era of urbanisation, cohabiting can breed and increase incidences of abominable practices like incestuous marriages (between relatives) since couples will take time to show their spouses or declare their intentions to marry. They could exploit the option of being forcefully declared married after the given number of years to avoid cultural obligations. Societal disorders like same sex marriages are likely to increase.
6. It undermines the authority, operations and scope of religious institutions especially churches which are key stakeholders in ensuring that citizens fulfill their moral and family obligations and keep the law. Cohabiting couples will claim to be law-abiding and assuage their guilty conscience by invoking the law!
In conclusion, the HIV/AIDS plague is lurking in our midst. The progress made in the fight against this epidemic could drastically be retarded by enactment of thoughtless laws.
Couples that are usually required to go for blood test before entering marital union will take the easy path of cohabitation, which commences as a secret affair and ignores such norm. This irresponsible practice could easily drag the country into the abyss of shame and utter destruction.
It should be discouraged in the strongest terms possible and couples obliged to lawfully marry before they live together.
The writer is from St. Paul’s College, Mbale.