Butaleja District council has made a bye-law prohibiting the demand for payment of or refund of bride price.
The law also prohibits blocking of burial of a dead female spouse on account of non-payment of pride price by the man.
The district council passed the Bridal Ordinance Bill on Wednesday to regulate bride price. The move for the new law was initiated by MIFUMI, a women rights advocacy NGO based in Tororo District.
The law makes it illegal to demand or return bridal gifts in dissolution of a customary marriage or payment of pride price as a condition for burial of a deceased woman who has been co-habiting with a man.
According to the passed ordinance bill, any person who demands the refund of bridal gifts as a condition before the dissolution of a marriage commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding Shs40,000 or community service not exceeding six months or both.
A similar penalty will be imposed on a person who demands bridal gifts as a condition for allowing burial of a deceased woman.
The move to regulate the practice of bride price followed a research by MIFUMI in 2008 and 2009, which revealed that increasing domestic violence in the country was related to bride price.
At least 84 per cent of the interviewees, according to MIFUMI, said they believed there was a direct connection between domestic violence and bride price.
According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 68 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 had experienced violence inflicted on them by their spouse or intimate partner (Uganda Aug. 2007, 293-294).
MIFUMI, in a press statement, said the law will play a big role in protecting children from early marriages because parents and guardians have made it a habit of giving away their daughters in exchange for bride price.
Further, MIFUMI maintains that bride price should be optional and non-refundable.
Law experts speak out on the issue
Commenting on the validity of the new law, human rights lawyer, Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi said a district council has powers to pass bye-laws that bind all residents in that district. However, he noted that the sentences for offenders are not custodial but in form of fines.
He said the law also applies to even people outside Butaleja who marry spouses from the district.
“Once you marry from there, the laws of the district will apply to you,” Rwakafuzi said.
The secretary to Uganda Law Reform Commission, Mr Omara Abong, said he had not yet read the bye-law. But he said for such legislation to become law, it must first go to the Attorney General to verify whether it’s consistent with the Constitution.