Judgment Day for Bride Price in Uganda

The Uganadan Constitutional Court will make a landmark ruling that will determine whether the practice of paying bride price for women during traditional marriages should continue.

The ruling could bring to an end a practice that has been carried on in every part of Uganda for generations as a token of appreciation to a woman’s parents for bringing up their daughter but which became adulterated over time due to the commercialisation of marriage.

The case, which was lodged in 2007 by women’s rights NGO Mifumi, sought the Court’s interpretation of whether payment of bride price is legal in a society advocating for the equality of women.

Officials from Mifumi say if the ruling goes in their favour, it would end all the negative impacts that bride price has had on the status of women in today’s Uganda. The Executive Director of Mifumi, Ms Turner Atiku, said they are fighting the continued payment of bride price in customary marriages because it has reduced women into commodities that can be sold even in the post-slavery era.

“If bride price is declared unconstitutional, the implication will be that hundreds of women and girls who marry under customary law will experience a milestone in their bid for equal treatment in marriage and be free from cruel and degrading treatment. Many young men who are forced to sell their land and property due to the extortionate demands of bride price will also benefit from such a ruling on this landmark case,” said Ms Atuki.

To Mifumi, payment of bride price has lost meaning if as Mr James Jagweri, one of their witnesses during the case, testified, his wife could be denied burial for one week as he struggled in his grief to raise her bride price. Or, like in the case of Ms Deborah Awori from Busia District, she can be kicked out of her matrimonial home because she tried – albeit in vain – to stop her daughter Evelyn from being forcefully married off despite being a Primary Seven candidate.

In their petition, Mifumi argued that the demand for and payment of bride price by the groom to the parents of the bride gives rise to conditions of inequality during marriage contrary to the provision of the Constitution which demands that men and women shall be accorded equal rights in marriage and its dissolution.

Mifumi also argued that the demand and refund of bride price as a condition of divorce interferes with the exercise of free consent of the parties of the marriage contrary to the demands of the Constitution, and that the custom causes domestic violence.

However, the practice has not lost all its significance even in today’s Uganda, according to a 2008 research report produced by Prof. Gill Hague of the University of Bristol and Dr Ravi Thaira of the University of Warwick in the UK from findings in the four eastern districts of Mbale, Tororo, Pallisa and Budaka.

The report indicated that 60 per cent of the people interviewed wanted the practice to undergo some form of reform, 28 per cent wanted it abolished while 12 per cent said it should not be changed at all.

Proponents of reform called for a change to a practice of giving smaller, non-refundable gifts, while those saying it should be abolished argued that domestic violence was seen as acceptable and poverty high in many families where bride price had been paid.

The researchers however noted one salient fact that even today’s ruling cannot ignore. In a conclusion reached basing on their findings, the researchers said; “The exchange of gifts under which bride price falls is something happening in almost every marriage around the globe and can’t be easily done away with. It needs to be looked and understood from a traditional and cultural context.”



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