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Kenya polygamy highest among pastoralists


Pastoral communities are the most polygamous in Kenya, a new national survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows.

The survey, which sampled a total of 23.5 million individuals across the 47 counties, showed that at the national level, 6.2 per cent of the adult population are in polygamous unions, about 54.4 per cent in monogamous partnerships, 27 per cent never married and 6.9 per cent are widowed.

Those separated and divorced accounted for five per cent of the population.

Polygamous unions were more widespread among rural dwellers at 8.4 per cent than urban (3.1 per cent). In contrast, monogamous unions are highest in urban areas, accounting to about 56.6 per cent compared to 52.8 per cent in rural areas.

Mandera recorded the highest number of polygamous unions (35 per cent), followed by West Pokot (25 per cent), Turkana (20.3 per cent) and Narok (16.9 per cent).

The only non-pastoralist communities in the top ten list of polygamous counties are Homa Bay and Busia, accounting for 15.7 per cent and 14.8 per cent respectively.

President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2014 signed into law a controversial marriage bill legalising polygamy. The Marriage Act, 2014 allows men to marry as many women as they please, and they do not have to consult their wives before doing it.

“Marriage is the voluntary union of a man and a woman, whether in a monogamous or polygamous union,” a presidential statement said when the bill was signed into law.

Contrastingly, counties in Central Kenya recorded low levels of polygamous unions.

At the county level, the highest proportion of population in monogamous unions was recorded in Kirinyaga (63.3 per cent) followed by Nakuru (62.6 per cent) and Nyandarua (61.8 per cent).

“Mandera County had the lowest proportion of population in monogamous unions at 33.3 per cent,” KNBS said.

The high number of polygamy unions is reflected in the household sizes of some of the counties predominantly occupied by pastoral communities.

Wajir, Mandera and Garissa recorded high average household sizes of 6.6, 6.4 and 5.5 members, respectively. Nationally, the average size was estimated at four members in the 2015/16 Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey (KIHBS), which was a decline from 5.1 members reported in 2005/06.

The average size in rural areas was higher at 4.5 members compared to 3.3 members in urban centres.

Smaller household sizes were registered in Nyeri, Nairobi City and Mombasa counties.

Meanwhile statistics showed that coastal counties have the highest divorced population, with Lamu leading with about 8.1 per cent of its adult population. Kwale followed with 6.6 per cent while Kilifi had about 4 per cent of its population divorced.