Divorce Rates in Kenya | The Latest Statistics

The demographic situation in the state is the primary measure of the quality of life of its population. One of its indicators is the statistics of marriages and divorces. This indicator makes it possible to see how much people want to create families, have children, and raise future generations.

The research and analysis of the latest statistics of divorce in Kenya conducted by onlinedivorce.com based on the data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) show considerable growth in marriage dissolution rates during the last five years nationwide.  According to the data, Kenya’s total population has grown from 46.7 million in 2014 to 53.8 million in 2020. Since 2014, the number of married couples has increased from 12.6 million to 16.7 million in 2020.

At the same time, the number of divorces has risen significantly over the past five years. In 2015, there were 10.5% of divorced couples among married people. This number rose to 17.7% in 2020. A noticeable tendency towards an increase in divorce rates is provoked by many factors, mainly:

  • urbanization of some regions;
  • the level of literacy and education;
  • the territorial distribution of families;
  • religion.

Family Laws in Kenya | Basic information

In Kenya, family relationships are regulated by the Marriage Act, according to which any person, regardless of race or religion, can enter into marriage. The Act consolidated multiple laws that were previously scattered in different statutes. For example, it establishes a simple procedure for contracting and transforming a customary marriage into a monogamous legal marriage.

The Family Law, which is based on English law, also applies to all marriages contracted under these laws. Indians living in the country are subject to the Law on Hindu Marriage and Divorce. Muslims, who make up 20% of the population, are guided by Islamic law norms on marriage, divorce, and property inheritance. The indigenous African population enters into marriages according to local customs.

In March 2014, Kenya’s parliament passed a law allowing men to marry multiple wives. Polygamy is common among traditional Kenyan and Muslim communities. The Family Law Commission considered it necessary to introduce compulsory marriage registration and establish a uniform marriage age — 18 years for men and 16 for women.

Attempts are being made to develop universal legislation on personal matters related to marriage and inheritance. In this regard, through the Department of Justice, National Unity and Constitutional Affairs, and the Kenya Law Reform Commission, the government has embarked on a review process to harmonize legislation on marriage and divorce.

Detailed Divorce Rates Statistics

As already mentioned above, divorce rates are closely connected with the level of literacy and education, the territory of residence and its urbanization, age when marriage was concluded, and religious beliefs. Let’s look at the statistics for each of these factors.

By age groups

Among 21.9 million people younger than 15 years, 4% are currently married. According to statistics, divorces in this age group are 2.1% two years after the wedding. This number grows to 8% after five years of marriage.

Early marriage remains a problem, mainly related to poverty and lack of economic opportunities for girls, especially in rural areas, cultural traditions and practices, and religious beliefs. At the same time, there has been a gradual improvement in the situation since 2010. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2015-2018, in the 45-49 age group, about 10% of women married before 18 years old, while in the current group of girls aged 15-19 years, only 2% married as minors. In addition, the average age at marriage increased from 19.7 years in 2010 to 23 years by 2018.

Between 15-19 years, 28.4% are married, and 2.1% are separated. The number of marriages grows steeply to 74.5% for the 20-29 years group, with 10.4% divorced.  91.9% between 30-39 years are married and 12.1% divorced. For the age gap of 40-49 years, these figures are 75.6% and 11.5%, respectively.

These statistical data are an average based on the whole territory of Kenya. If we take individual regions of the country, these figures may fluctuate slightly.

By level of literacy and education

Among the adult population over 15 years old, the literacy rate among men is 81.1%, and 74.9% among women, while the literacy rate of young people of 15-24 years is slightly higher —  85.9%. The introduction of compulsory free primary education in 2003 was one factor contributing to the decline in early marriage. Simultaneously, with the growth of education, the age of marriage rises, and the divorce rate among couples who have married by conscious choice decreases. During 2016-2019, the divorce rate among the educated population has decreased by 2.2% compared to 2010.

Low education levels or no education means that a new family will struggle financially because of a lack of employment opportunities. If such couples find work, further promotion is also limited due to little or no qualifications. It is especially noticeable in urbanized areas, such as Nairobi, with a high standard of living and everyday costs.

By place of residence

The area of residence of families has a significant impact on the stability of marriage. Local religion and customs are expressed in, for example, what age is considered appropriate for a wedding. Moreover, the exact order in the family is regulated by local, generally accepted norms. For example, the coastal population is mostly Muslims who marry at an early age, which, coupled with low education, makes marriage very unstable (9.3% of divorces among people of 15-19 years old).

As of 2019, the urban population is 67.7%, and the rural community is 32.3%. Simultaneously, the urban population’s growth is 4% per year, representing the relocation of people to cities with a higher level of urbanization.

In Central province and Nairobi, employment plays a much more significant part than other marriage dissolution factors. The biggest number of divorced people is between 30-35 years old – 21.4%. Urbanization of this area leads to high living standards and high prices. Many couples have to work long hours to provide for their primary needs. Spending most of their time at work, spouses lose their close bond, grow apart, and do not feel the need to stay together anymore.

The Rift Valley is less urbanized, and most of the locals value their customs regarding marriage, making the divorce rates lower than in other regions (11.5%).  In Nyanza, the most significant factor for marriage dissolution (6.7% among all age groups) is religion and a high literacy level.

There are 11.9% of divorced couples in the Eastern province, with significant ethnic differences. In the Western area, 13.8% of people end their marriages because of religious differences (Protestantism mostly), lack of education, and early marriages.

By religious beliefs

There are 44.7 million Christians in Kenya, 47.4% of which are Protestants, 23.3% Catholic, and 1.4% Orthodox Christians. More than 5 million are Muslim, 52 thousand are Buddhists, and 132 thousand are atheists. Others belong to African tribal cultures with their religion.

According to the present research, religious differences in marriage lead to disagreements in the family more often among Christians than in other religions in Kenya. In these unions, people tend to end a marriage because of different cultural practices more frequently than for other reasons. On the other hand, Muslim marriages and divorces lack legal recognition and are difficult to be traced. As a rule, people rarely marry someone outside their Islamic religion, making cultural differences an insignificant factor for marriage dissolution.

Common Reasons for Divorce in Kenya

  • 26% Refusal of an intimate relationship with a spouse for a long time without good reason such as illness, pregnancy, or recent giving of birth;
  • 20% Long-term non-provision by the husband of material assistance to the family;
  • 17% Wife’s systematic failure to fulfill her responsibilities at home, laziness, constant waste of marital property;
  • 15% Extended absence from home of one of the spouses without the knowledge of the other;
  • 9% Adultery;
  • 7% Alcoholism;
  • 4% Cruel treatment if it is excessive or unjustified: some tribes believe that, within reasonable limits, a husband can beat his wife for serious offenses;
  • 2% Witchcraft directed against a husband or wife.

Interestingly, in tribes, adultery is not considered a reason for divorce in all circumstances. For some people, a single act of a wife’s infidelity is enough for a divorce. In contrast, for others, only her extremely depraved lifestyle or a long relationship with another person can serve as a basis for marriage dissolution. Regardless of the relationship’s duration, the husband’s infidelity is usually recognized as a reason for divorce only under “aggravating circumstances,” such as incest, infection of the wife with a venereal disease, or a husband leaving his wife and living with another woman.

However, suppose a mistress is a married woman. In that case, it is a good reason for divorce, which serves as a punishment to the husband not for infidelity to his wife but for violating another man’s marital rights. Besides, in some Senegalese tribes, one of the grounds for divorce may be the husband’s unequal distribution of nights between wives in a polygamous marriage.  As for infertility, it is not a common reason for marriage dissolution. Among tribes that recognize polygamy, a wife’s infertility is usually considered a reason for taking a second wife, not divorcing the first.

Conclusion

Although there is an increase in the country’s divorce rate, this figure remains relatively low compared to similar statistics for the African continent and the world. Marriages have become more deliberate, leading to fewer divorces among educated couples. Simultaneously, growing urbanization and relocation of people to cities has a severe effect on marriage dissolution rates.


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