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Uganda: Rights Group Seeks to Have Bride Price Abolished

(Sept. 17, 2009) It was reported on September 9, 2009, that MIFUMI, a women’s rights organization that promotes protection for women and children affected by domestic violence, abuse, and bride-price violations, together with other concerned individuals, filed a legal action before Uganda’s Constitutional Court, seeking the abolition of the practice of bride price. (Milton Olupot & Hillary Nsambu, Bride Price War in Constitutional Court, THE NEW VISISON, Sept. 9, 2009, available at http://www.newvision.co.ug/PA/8/12/694013.)

The petitioners claim that bride price turns women into commodities and promotes domestic violence. Ladieslaus Rwakafuz, counsel for the petitioners, argues that the bride price gives rise to inequality in marriage and violates the constitutional principle of equality. He said that “[m]any [girls] are taken out of school so that they can be married off, as their parents want marital benefits.” (Id.) Rwakafuz further noted 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. Similarly, the bride price forces a husband and wife with irreconcilable difference to stay married, because it is paid under the condition that it will be refunded in the event the marriage is dissolved. (Id.)

Among the Sebei people, closely affiliated tribes in Eastern Uganda who have similar traditions, bride price is payable by the groom’s family to the bride’s family and is distributed among the members of the extended family. (Walter Goldschmidt, SEBEI LAW 44-45 (Univ. of California Press, 1967).) The amount (which includes cash as well as other movable property) payable as bride price is determined through negotiations between the bride’s and the groom’s families. One bull, one goat, some chickens, and about ten percent of the bride price amount in cash are usually paid to the maternal uncle. One goat goes to the mother; the rest of the animals go to the father. Chattels are distributed among the other relatives. (Id.)

The father of the groom has a legal obligation to provide the necessary bride price for his son’s first marriage. In the event that he refuses, clan elders have the power to force him to carry out his fatherly duty. (Id.) The father of the groom does, however, stand to gain from the marriage of his son; his descendants may increase in number, which would strengthen his clan and its importance. (Id.)