Woman fights to have Muslim marriages protected by law
The Women's Legal Centre also wants sections of the Marriage Act declared unconstitutional for failing to recognise and regulate Muslim marriages
Ayesha Royker and her sons could have been left homeless after her Muslim marriage of 19 years crumbled three years ago. But she stood up to her husband, something she says many women in her position are unable to do.
She claims her former husband tried to evict her from the Cape Town home in which they had raised their three children. He took their takeaway businesses and said he was able to do this because the law did not recognise Muslim marriages.
Royker has been engaged in a lengthy legal battle with him to prove she has a claim to the estate.
The 43-year-old's plight is typical of thousands of women like her. This week a full bench of the High Court in Cape Town considered a request to declare that the president, parliament and the cabinet have failed in their constitutional duty by not enacting legislation that recognises Muslim marriages.
The Women's Legal Centre also wants sections of the Marriage Act declared unconstitutional for failing to "recognise and regulate the solemnisation of all Muslim marriages".
According to the centre, it is litigating to "extend benefits such as pensions, inheritance and maintenance to religious marriages". Judgment was reserved.
Royker dropped out the University of Cape Town when she married, and joined the family business."We started off with one takeaway business and we expanded. I contributed towards uplifting our family in the business and after 19 years I was left without a share," she said.
"In civil marriage, if you don't have a contract it automatically becomes a joint estate. As a Muslim without a contract, the husband says it is out of community of property."
When their marriage ended, her husband told her and their sons - now aged 21, 17 and 15 - to move out of the family home.
"But I had done my homework, I knew that with minor children he can't put me out," she said. "A lot of women get told 'You have to leave', and they do.
"I had to start all over, and 2015 was a very tough year. In 2016 I studied to be a paralegal and I qualified and now I am studying towards my LLB degree."
She said many women in her predicament were vulnerable because they were uneducated and lacked support.
Royker, who now works as a conveyancing clerk, said her former husband supported their children on his terms.
"I am at his mercy when it comes to maintenance," she said.Royker said her struggle had ignited a passion to educate Muslim women about their rights.
Thomas Bokaba, counsel for the speaker of parliament, said parliament could only process the Muslim marriages statute if it was tabled. He said the Law Reform Commission would meet to consider the matter.
Lawyers for the home affairs minister denied Muslim marriages had been singled out for "non-recognition" because there was no legislation recognising religious marriages "whether Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist".
Moulana Ihsaan Abrahams, the leader of Jamiatul Ulama, Western Cape, said the proposed legislation infringed on Muslims' right to religion.
"We consider this a violation of our constitutional and democratic right to practise our religion freely," said Abrahams. "This man-made law, it does not work as efficiently as the law of the creator."