Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A different type of marriage problem

While we here in the US struggle for the right of all people to marry, thousands of South African women (and a few men) are fighting for their right not to be married. At least, not without their knowledge.

Over the last 3 years, at least 3,387 women (and a few men) have discovered that they are married. Married without their knowledge or consent; married to men (or, in the case of the men, to women) they have never even met. In the last month alone, nearly 800 more cases have been discovered.

One woman discovered her "marriage" when she applied for a passport to go visit her sister in New Zealand. Her passport was refused, on the grounds that she had not used her "proper" name (i.e. her married name). Another woman found out when she went to apply for a marriage license to marry a different man (this one was her choice). More recently, South Africa's Department of Home Affairs has started a public campaign to bring about awareness of this issue and has been putting this information on-line so people can check on their marital status that way.

Of course, the Department of Home Affairs is under investigation itself for it's involvment in this scam.
The department itself is also under review. As investigators have discovered, marrying a South African woman without her knowledge has been as simple as paying a bribe, averaging about $750, to one of many willing home affairs officials.

The certificates are valuable because a foreigner who weds a South African is automatically entitled to permanent residence and a work permit, without which the foreigner could be deported. As the most advanced and prosperous nation in the region, South Africa is a magnet for immigrants seeking a new life - and criminals seeking new identities.

That will not be so easy from now on. A law Parliament adopted on Aug. 19 requires foreigners who marry South Africans to wait five years before applying for anything but temporary residence and work permits.

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