On Monday, a legal-rights group took the South African government to court, pushing for Muslim marriages to be legally recognised.
According to eNCA, the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) lobbied against the ‘unfair discrimination’ of South African law not granting religious marriages the same legal status as civil marriages, African customary marriages or same-sex marriages. According to Seehaam Samaai, the government’s failure to legally recognise Muslim marriages means that ‘Muslim women and children are disproportionately impacted’ when the marriages end in divorce or death.
According to Huffington Post SA, ‘It’s dependent upon the husband to agree when the wife seeks a divorce – and no religious body can compel him to agree if he does not want to.’ Non-recognition under the South African law makes it difficult for Muslim women to seek divorce or gain assets. Abrahams-Fayker, an attorney at the centre, explains that ‘women are often left with no access to property, money or resources in the event of a divorce.’
— Women’s Legal Centre (@WLCCapeTown) August 28, 2017
‘When civil or customary marriages break down, the law steps in to ensure fairness between the spouses and to protect the rights of the children,’ the WLC told Huffington Post. This is not the case in respect of Muslim marriages or other religious marriages.’
Abrahams-Fayker also clarifies that ‘legislation is imperative in order to either give wives equal authority to terminate the marriage so as to create bargaining power on their behalf or require their husbands to register each divorce with the court so that, at minimum, wives have notice of their husband’s intent to divorce.’
Until this legislation changes, Muslim wives will continue to be disadvantaged under South African law.