Heated debate as MPs ban bride price refund

UPDF MP Maj. Sarah Mpabwa (L) addresses MPs during a meeting on Marriage and Divorce Bill at Imperial Royale Hotel In Kampala yesterday. Next to her is the chairperson Uganda Women Parliamentary Association, Ms Betty Amongin. PHOTO GEOFFREY SSERUYANGE

What you need to know:

No more waiting. Key amendments to the Marriage and Divorce Bill adopted in impassioned session but controversial clauses on property, cohabitation still up for debate.

MPs yesterday voted to ban widow inheritance, and made it an offence for a spouse to demand for a refund of bride price as they entered into the final stages of writing a law governing marriage.

The House adopted amendments to the Marriage and Divorce Bill amidst protests from some members who walked out of Parliament, saying the Bill should be stayed for two more months to allow them consult their constituents.

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, however, ruled that the debate should go on, saying the Bill had stalled since 1960. She added that there was nothing MPs wanted to consult about widow inheritance, since the practice was known.

Clause 13 of the Bill, which was unanimously adopted yesterday, now makes it an offence to marry a widow through the practice of inheritance without her consent.

The law now makes bride price non-refundable. Women activists had demanded that bride price, which they said had been commercialised, should be banned since it put women at the risk of being battered by their husbands who regarded them as property.

The age of consent for marriage was placed at 18 years.

Earlier in the day, women legislators met and agreed to have a contentious clause seeking to recognise the mutual rights of cohabiting partners to property after termination of a relationship deleted. By press time, this matter had not yet been considered.

Most MPs say cohabitation is not a recognised form of marriage, and that legalising it would negatively impact on the family unit.

The Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) agreed to communicate their final position to the Speaker and to the Attorney General.

During a workshop chaired by Ms Betty Amongi (Oyam South), UWOPA members instead suggested that a separate law be put in place to legislate for property rights under cohabitation. They said cohabiting is rife.

Mityana Woman MP Sylvia Namabidde opened up debate over the matter yesterday, and urged fellow MPs to delete the clause, which she said had created suspicion among religious leaders who say recognising cohabitation was legislating for crime.

“Why should we legislate for the rights of people whose status is not recognised by the law? Whereas we recognise the fact that many people cohabit, we should have a separate law for them and not mix up issues, “suggested Ms Flavia Kabahenda (Kyegegwa District Women).

Ms Gertrude Nakabira (Lwengo Women MP) noted that legalising cohabitation would mean going against church preaching that encourage believers to embrace the sacrament of matrimony.

“Me as a parent, l can’t support cohabitation because it means am supporting outright prostitution. We should not encourage our children to go against the church laws,” she said.

Not recognised
Ms Alice Alaso (Serere women) and Mariam Nalubega (Gomba) also backed their colleagues saying cohabitation is not a recognised form of marriage.
The Bill also legislates for the sharing of matrimonial property after divorce, but male MPs say women are targeting their properties.

The Bill is a break-away from the original Domestic Relations Bill which was rejected by the Muslim community, forcing Cabinet to separate the law for Muslims and Christians.

Debate on the Bill resumes next week on Tuesday.