THE Constitutional Court ruled last week that adultery was no longer a crime. The decision was met with incomprehension and disapproval from the general public, and especially the male half.
Some people wondered whether judges had the right to order changes to the Penal Code. Was it, after all, not MPs to make and amend the laws of this country?
Others wondered whether the judges had taken into account the countryâ€™s traditional and cultural values. After all, a man is entitled to more wives under customary law, whereas a woman is supposed to be faithful to one man.
For one thing, the judges were right to dismiss the adultery law as discriminatory. It was legal for a married man to have an affair with an unmarried woman. But it was illegal for a married woman to have an affair with an unmarried man.
Women found guilty of the offence faced a fine or up to a year in jail. Moreover, adultery was enough reason for a man to divorce his wife. A woman had to additionally prove that she had been mistreated or deserted.
Will the court ruling lead to a more permissive and immoral society? Probably not. Adultery remains a ground for divorce for both men and women.
And in this HIV/AIDS era, having multiple partners has become risky anyway, not only for the adulterer but also for his/her partners.
Will it lead to more women seeking divorce? Even that is not so sure. Most women are economically dependent on their husbands. The fact that in some cultures, a woman has to refund the bride price in case she seeks a divorce is an additional obstacle.
More important than removing the adultery law was the decision of the court to scrap sections of the Succession Act, which gave widows almost no control over the family property and offspring.
Apart from the grief of losing a husband, a woman faced the additional, inhuman fate of losing her land, house and guardianship over her children. Removing that cross was the best Easter present the judges could have given the women of this country.
Adultery law was discriminatory