The Marriage and Divorce Bill is just a revised version of existing laws
Posted Thursday, March 21 2013 at 02:00
The on-going furore about the Marriage and Divorce Bill is linked to general lack of knowledge about the Bill and blatant insincerity. Most debates are laden with emotion, superstition and grandstanding and have limited reference to the substance of the Bill. You would think there has been a total absence of marriage laws in this country.
Several laws are in place to regulate marriage and divorce, with most predating our independence. These include:
• Marriage Act Cap 251 Laws of Uganda (1904)
• Customary Marriage (registration) Act Cap 248 (1973)
• Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act Cap 250 (1961)
• Marriage and Divorce of Mohammedans Act Cap 252 (1906)
• Divorce Act Cap 249 (1904). Sections 4(1) &(2), 5, 21-24 and 26 of the Divorce Act were found to be inconsistent with the Constitution of Uganda of 1995.
The Marriage Act and Divorce Act both came into force in 1904, way before activists like Rhoda Kalema were born. People do not get married thinking divorce, but it happens sometimes. That is a reality of life and those who crafted our marriage laws knew that. This situation has not changed. If anything, there are more divorces today than ever before in Uganda.
The existing legislation was probably put in place with limited contribution from the Ugandan masses, a situation which called for a review (the Bill actually revises the existing laws). The Marriage and Divorce Bill seeks to ensure that the existing laws are consistent with the provisions of our Constitution.
Others argue that the name of the Bill is a problem while others say the cohabitation clause is a deal breaker and the list goes on. Rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, we can make adjustments, change the name of the Bill and call it “the good marriage relations Bill” if it helps. Extremely contentious clauses such as that on cohabitation can be set aside for further debate.
Several politicians and members of the clergy claim that they are concerned about the problems faced by women. In the same breath, they ask Government to go slow on a law that has been over 40 years in the making! This is hypocrisy at its best.
The reality is that there have always been rules guiding marriages and their dissolution and this is not about to change. Let us stop the excuses, arm ourselves with information (start with the existing laws) and make meaningful contributions to a law or laws that will ensure equal rights for men and women (of all denominations) upon entry into marriage, during marriage, and at its dissolution.