Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Uganda: Court Finds Practice of Bride Price Constitutional

(Mar. 31, 2010) It was reported on March 29, 2010, that the Ugandan Constitutional Court, in what appears to be a major blow to women's rights groups, rejected a petition for abolishing the traditional practice of bride price (dowry) in Uganda. (Hillary Nsambu, Constitutional Court Rules in Favour of Bride Price, SUNDAY VISION, Mar. 29, 2010, available at http://www.sundayvision.co.ug/detail.php?mainNewsCategoryId=7&newsCa
tegoryId=123&newsId=714374
.)

The petitioners, in their attempt to have the practice abolished, argued that bride price turns women into commodities, it promotes domestic violence, it gives rise to inequality in marriage, and it violates the constitutional principle of equality. (Hanibal Goitom, Rights Group Seeks to Have Bride Price Abolished, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR, Sept. 17, 2009, available at //www.loc.gov/lawweb/servlet/lloc_news?disp3_l205401570_text.) The petitioners further argued that the practice interferes with the consent of both the bride and groom, because it incentivizes members of the extended family (who stand to gain from a matrimonial union of two individuals) to push for marriage. (Id.) In addition, the practice forces a husband and wife with irreconcilable differences to stay married, because the bride price is paid under the condition that it will be refunded in the event the marriage is dissolved. (Id.)

In a four-to-one majority decision, the Court held that the petitioners had failed to convince the court of the link between bride price and domestic violence. (Nsambu, supra.) Laetitia Kikonyogo, the Deputy Chief Justice of the Court, wrote that “the court cannot say with certainty that bride price be [sic] unconstitutional on such a ground, because there are varied and numerous causes of spousal abuse.” (Id.) According to Kikonyogo, although the practice occasionally results in domestic abuse and mistreatment of women, that fact alone is not sufficient to compel the Court to make a general prohibition of the practice. (Id.)

Justice Amos Twinomujuni, the only dissenter, argued that the practice has “become purely commercialised, highly exploitive [sic] and humiliating to women.” Twinomujuni went as far as equating the practice to slavery. (Id.)

Kikonyogo and Twinomujuni took the same position on the practice of requiring a woman to pay back bride price in the event of dissolution of a marriage. Kikonyogo wrote that such a practice undermines a wife's unique and valuable contributions to a marriage and violates her constitutional right to be an equal partner. (Id.) Twinomujuni argued that the practice of making a woman refund the bride price when she decides to leave an abusive marriage is unconstitutional, because it dehumanizes the woman. (Id.)