Lazar ArasuIt is a fact that cohabitation is a mutinous behavioural trend threatening the institution of marriage. Loose civil laws, shallow religious affiliation, modern day social changes and cultural practices such as polygamy, bride-price, wife-inheritance, etc have made cohabitation easy or even made it look like a necessary evil.
As the number of cohabiting couples has increased, the inhibitions attached to such a way of life has waned. Today it has almost become normal for people of marriageable age to live together and begin begetting children before legalising their union.
But the cohabiting couples and all the stakeholders concerned also know that it is not the best way of beginning conjugal life and they are aware of all the risks involved. They know the danger and jeopardy living together can bring.
“Happily cohabiting couples” cite reasons such as enormous expense of an organised wedding, hurdles of religious procedures, lack of time in going through all the tedious process of wedding and cultural practices such as kwanjula and kasiki. Besides, having had a premarital sexual affair and children, religious and tribal differences involved between the couple make cohabitation look like a necessary thing. But all these reasons become invalid, compromised and shallow when the priorities are brought into question.
The institution of marriage is time-tested and revered in all cultures, traditions and religions. Its norms and regulations in different institutions have been made and practiced to solve foreseen problems and hassles.
It is a fact that when marriage is done within the respected way, many foreseen and unforeseen problems can be easily faced and overcome, yet cohabitation puts the couple and their children in jeopardy. It can also cause problems to the families concerned and can become a burden to the larger society.
Cohabitation is a test of patience and trust. Mere verbal promises of taking care of each other, sharing of resources, accepting to care for their children does not really hold water. It has regular moments of suspicion, doubt and misgiving. The fact that their union is not legalised or religiously blessed, deprives them of enormous emotional and moral support. This situation comes to a litmus test in the moment of sickness, relationship tussles and unforeseen crisis. There is always a risk of giving up in relationships and each departing in different ways. This can happen without any legal implication.
Going to the root of the problem, it looks like elders and parents have stopped challenging their children on this issue or they find themselves inadequate in giving worthy examples. Religious leaders, especially those in higher offices such as bishops too, have tried and given up on this important pastoral issue. The government and civil authorities easily condone this social issue and have even tried to legalise its status quo through legislation.
It is believed that the practice of cohabitation which began in the 70s in many African societies has become a way of life now, among the third generation. This social malady that has taken deep root now needs a well planned, firm and concerted effort from all stakeholders to make the necessary change. The precedence should be taken by the religious leaders who are in higher authority and positions, such as conference of bishops and the supreme council of Islamic leaders.
Until we solve this problem, other social vices such as defilement, early marriage, rape, domestic violence, single parenthood, child abandonment and retired-parent neglect cannot be easily tackled, rather they will become even more rife.
Lazar Arasu is a priest
Kiiza Akiiki returns next week