It should be one of the smoothest processes after jumping the many hurdles that come with preparing for a wedding.
It is one of the final stages, after a couple has met each others’ parents or guardians, and the difficult task of negotiating dowry – if it is being done – has successfully been completed with the two love birds having gotten the go-ahead to seal their love with a celebration – a wedding.
However, for some couples, the search for a marriage licence becomes a cat and mouse game as some rogue gatekeepers at some marriage registries office take advantage of how emotive the matter of marriage is.
For Mark* (not his real name), he had ticked all the boxes in preparation for his big day – he had secured a venue, booked good service providers, gotten his suit and wedding bands. All that was left was to make an application for a marriage licence to wed the love of his life.
Little did he know that the pursuit of the document would be an uphill task.
With budgets being tight when planning weddings, every coin counts.
Mark had thought he did not have to worry about the Ksh800 fee for a licence, until he tried to secure the document.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, services of the State Law Office transitioned online through the Ecitizen platform; with couples required to book appointments and only visit Sheria House for the presentation and verification of their documents.
The online application process, however only started in the Capital city of Nairobi. In other counties, the manual system is still operational.
Before the applications went digital in Nairobi, couples were not required to make appointments before visiting the marriage registry.
According to a State Law Office communique, the Registry previously served an average of 600 clients manually.
The pandemic necessitated a change in the mode of service delivery to comply with Ministry of Health social distancing guidelines.
At the beginning of the year, Mark made an application for a marriage licence for a church wedding, which costs Ksh800. The application was made, cognizant of the 21 days notice required.
However, three weeks passed and no action had been taken on his application on Ecitizen.
This forced Mark to push forward his wedding date.
He made another application and the same thing happened – no action was taken on it and he was faced with the possibility of having to reschedule his wedding date, again.
“I was talking to other couples in my premarital class who asked me why I was changing my wedding date, again. I told them about the frustration I was facing and one couple told me they had faced a similar situation and was forced to visit a smaller registry outside Nairobi county (where services are still manual) to fast track their process,” Mark said.
On visiting a smaller registry and explaining his situation, an officer told him that they were experiencing a shortage of the paper used to print the licences on.
“He proceeded to take me to one of their offices where they were in the process of digitizing processes. He showed me a pile of boxes with pending applications, but added that I could get a licence as soon as the next day if I parted with Ksh11,000.”
Faced with the possible embarrassment of having to announce he had pushed his wedding date, again, Mark opted to ‘negotiate’ the facilitation fees the officer was asking for.
“I ended up parting with Ksh7,000 and the next day, I had my licence.”
At the height of the pandemic, several Kenyans took to Facebook to post their frustrations in getting licences. A spot check of the Office of the Attorney General’s Facebook page showed several Kenyans seeking help in processing the licence after waiting for the document for extended periods.
One user by the name Marto Kimemia lamented, “Why is it taking so long to review special marriage licence applications yet one is paying so much for it?”
Another person who went by the name Rael Koko posted, “Why is getting a Special License so complicated and taking months? You closed Sheria House due to Covid-19 then when you opened and I went there, I was told the application must be done online. But it took long for the Special License application.”
“When I finally got an appointment for an interview, I had to wait for two hours only to be told interviews had been suspended.”
Contacted for comment via phone, an officer from the Office of the Attorney General’s public communications department, who declined to identify himself, said: “OAG is a corruption free zone. If the person had a problem, he should have raised it with the office for it to be looked into. Where is the proof an officer solicited for a bribe? That should even be a police case. If it happened, we say sorry, but this is a corruption free zone. You should take up the matter with the Marriages officer to advice.”
Our attempts to reach the officer in charge of the Marriages department were also unsuccessful as the writer was told the officer was in a meeting the two times a call was made. A further three attempts were made to reach the office via phone the following day, but the phone calls were not picked.
Citizen Digital’s attempts to get a comment via email were also unsuccessful as a week after sending the questions, there was no response.