Outlaw Divorce?

Swaziland’s King Mswati III has told leaders that it is against culture to divorce, and instructed them to tell citizens that there will be no pulling out from marriage, once it takes place. So much for no fault divorce in Swaziland.

Swaziland Divorce

King Mswati III of Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarch. The 49-year old king who calls himself “the lion,” owns most of the country’s land and rules by decree, appointing all of the government’s top positions. Now he may make Swaziland the first country in Africa to outlaw divorce.

“In our culture, once you marry someone, there is no turning back,” he said  speaking at an Easter ceremony earlier this month, according to a local paper, Times of Swaziland. There is no word for “divorce” in Siswati, the official language of Swaziland, the king added.

Swaziland officials have been quick to clarify that divorce has not been officially banned. The king’s comments, which are not a decree until he officially tables them, run counter to a recently submitted marriage bill by Swaziland’s attorney general that allows for divorce on certain grounds.

Divorce is not permitted under current legislation, but a process called Kumbuyisela ekhaya, which refers to reuniting a married woman with her family, is allowed.

King Mswati III has at least 15 wives, and is entitled to a new one every year, chosen at an eight day festival known as the reed dance. Polygamy is common in Swaziland where women are considered the property of their husbands. Domestic abuse and sexual violence are prevalent. Leaders often criticize ideas of equal rights for women as foreign values that should be subordinated to Swazi culture, according to Human Rights Watch.

Divorce Around the World

The Philippines is the only country in the world where divorce is illegal for most of the country’s population. (Muslims are allowed to divorce and the country’s mostly Catholic population can annul marriages.) In Vatican City, there are also no procedures for divorce.

Florida, of course is a “no fault” divorce state. I mentioned in an a earlier post that Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. The only reason you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” But many people want to return to the old “fault” system to stem the numbers of divorces.

The King’s directive comes as the kingdom’s attorney-general is drafting a marriage Bill which will make it easier to divorce, particularly for women. The king’s wish is likely to become law, if he formally tables it. This would mostly affect women, whom it says are already oppressed.

“It is not necessarily a decree. However, given the vast powers that the king has it may sound as it is. Remember that he’s also a chairperson of the judiciary commission. I’m just imagining women going there to demand a divorce given that the judge himself will be worried about his job after they had to contradict their boss; in this case the king,” said Lucky Lukhele from the Swaziland Solidarity Network.

The article is available here.