Foreign nationals who dubiously marry to obtain papers could have their citizenship revoked

Effort is under way to check mate the rising fraudulent marriages, which is only intended to obtain papers.

Marriages of convenience, which are mostly used by foreigners to gain SA citizenship will become a “dangerous game” to play in future, warns home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

While the country has become a haven for bogus marriages Motsoaledi said a proposed new marriage statute will make it “very difficult” to marry someone in absentia, which is currently the main driver of the country’s fake marriages.

So serious is he about stopping fraudulent marriages that his office has started revoking the citizenship of those found to have forged their unions.

“We are now handling a very difficult case of somebody who got married and after getting citizenship he got divorced and went home to fetch the ‘real’ wife. So we are taking his citizenship away. But he is resisting and says that we are evil as we found out about his fake marriages after a long time. So he is threatening to go to court,” he said.

Between April 2018 and June 2019 Motsoaledi said there were more than 2,000 fraudulent marriages, almost all involving foreign nationals. About 1,100 had since been annulled while more than 600 were referred to courts to be dissolved through divorce.

Speaking to TimesLIVE at the Valentine’s Day mass wedding at Robben Island on Friday, Motsoaledi said young women were often victims of these undesirable marriages, enticed with money.

“Young women who need money for their nails, hair and cellphones are usually caught up in these marriages. Some of the girls do it knowingly that they don’t want this marriage, but they do it anyway knowing that they will just discard it. But the new marriage policy will be very clear and have measures in place to minimise occurrence of these marriages of convenience. Those who think that getting married is a game will realise that it’s a dangerous game,” he said.

The proposed single marriage law, which is currently being investigated by the SA Law Reform Commission, seeks to give everyone equal rights, regardless of their religious and cultural background. The new statute will replace the Marriage Act of 1961, the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998 and the Civil Union Act of 2006.

The commission is considering either a single act with a unified set of requirements, or an “omnibus option” reflecting the current diverse set of legal requirements and consequences of civil, religious and customary marriages and civil unions.

It is also looking into consent and capacity to marry, minimum age, the issuing of marriage licences and marriage ceremonies. It will also look into spousal support, antenuptial agreements, cohabitation rights, dispute resolution in family matters and bogus marriages.

Motsoaledi said one of the weaknesses of the current law was that it allowed one person to register a marriage alone, as long they had the required documents.

“In the new law we will require them to come together. Some of the women end up getting married unknowingly because they had their documents stolen. So we want both of them to appear together,” he said.

The new law is expected to come into effect in 2021.

Marriage officers will also be trained to look out for red flags in potential bogus marriages. In cases of foreigners marrying across the border, countries of origin will also be consulted to check the marital status of marriage applicants.

“So in the proposed law it’s going to be a little bit tough. We are going to demand some information from the countries of origin that you are actually not married. We will train marriage officers to understand the implications of marrying across the borders. People take marriages like a game … that I will just marry and annul. But that game will now become a very dangerous one to play,” he said.

Motsoaledi said under the new marriage regime teenage marriages will not be tolerated. Statistics from the department of social development show that in 2016 there were 103 teenage divorces and in 2017 there were about 73.

Currently parents are allowed to give their daughter’s hand in marriage even if they are underage.

“There are about 14,600 ministers of religion and 1,400 home affairs officers. All of them will be instructed about this. Even if you go to them as a teen they will tell you that I’m sorry I won’t allow you,” said Motsoaledi.

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