Bigamy: The marriage that will get the law barking

Friday September 13 2013

By Abdulaziizi K. Tumusiime

Roselyn Namukasa is a mother of one. Prior to her current relationship, she was in another marriage with someone else. Like most marriages, hers had its challenges, too. Efforts were undertaken to resolve them, but not to her satisfaction. In response, she jumped ship - Namukasa abandoned her husband for someone else. Today, she defines herself as happily married. The mother of two says she went to church for her first marriage but did not, for the second one. She, nevertheless, is convinced that she is married.

Daniel Angualia, an advocate at Angualia Busiku and Co. Advocates, says that Namukasa’s recent marriage is an offence under the laws of Uganda. “That is bigamy. It is a crime under section 153 of the penal code act,” says the advocate.

Bigamy is defined as the act of entering into a marriage with one person while still legally married to another. Angualia says there are two popular circumstances under which people commit bigamy.

“It could be out of ignorance. Someone may have been separated from their legally married partner for, say, three or four years. At the end of this period, the person believes that they are single. They then enter marriage with someone else,” Angualia explains.

“In another case, it could be with fraudulent intentions. This person well knows that they are still married to their husband or wife. Out of fear that their spouse is unwilling to grant them divorce or out of reluctance to endure the long procedure of divorce, they opt to leave.

How it happens
At the time of entering marriage with the new partner, they do not disclose the details of their previous relationship because they are worried that this person could call off the partnership.”

The advocate says that what made it easier for Namukasa to commit the crime is that she did not go to church for her marriage with the new husband. He notes that for those who seek to remarry civilly, there are measures in place to alert their past partners.

The lawyer says that if the marriage is to be conducted in church or at the registrar of marriages, announcements are made before hand.

“In church, three announcements are made before the wedding. Even on the wedding day, it is announced that if there is anyone who has a genuine reason why the couple should not get married, say or keep quiet forever.

At the registrar of marriages, a notice is put up to 21 days before the date of the wedding ceremony. This is to allow anyone who has reasonable belief that the intended marriage should not be conducted, to ask for its blocking,” he explains.

The offence is one of the prevailing ones in our society today. But, unlike its counterparts, such as adultery and rape, it does not make headlines. You rarely hear of a bigamy-related arrest. Or conviction. Angualia attributes this to the government’s treating of the crime as a trivial one.

He argues that there are very many offences in the law books but not all of them are prosecuted.

Angualia supposes that this could be a result of the government not having enough resources to investigate all the aspects of the offence. “That is why priority is given to cases like adultery and rape,” he states.

Namukasa did not divulge the reasons why she went into another marriage before legally ending her previous one.

Nevertheless, Paul Nyende, a psychologist at Makerere University, says that people commit bigamy as a way of getting themselves around the depression from collapse of their relationships.

“The new relationships that they embark on act as support systems for the frustrations that they are facing. They view them as healing mediums for the pain faced. Other people commit the offence as a means of getting back at their ex – partners, to show them that much as they thought they could not find someone else, the contrary happened. Then there are those who engage in bigamy because they assume it is easier to find another partner while you are in a subsisting relationship than when you are divorced. It is like getting a new job. It is easier to get a new job when you have one than when you are unemployed,” says Nyende.

The advocate says that an individual who learns that their spouse has left them for another marriage, like Namukasa did, can seek redress in courts of law. He says that the aggrieved party can go to court and get an order nullifying the marriage.

“And these people are obliged to separate otherwise not doing so would be contempt of court. One is expected to go back to their partner. On whether he or she will accept you, that is another issue,” Angualia concludes.

Bigamy may be an ignored offence, as the advocate alleges.

That comes off as a leeway for it to be prevalent, but you cannot rule out that a time will come when the state will gain interest in prosecuting suspects of the crime. Since it cannot be told when that will happen, the commendable way forward is to be on the good side of the law.