Activists ask court to ban polygamy

Should marriages be monogamous or polygamous?

What you need to know:

Mr Patrick Ndira, who has sworn an affidavit in support of the petition, says polygamy undermines the wellbeing of women, making them susceptible to ailments the man might pick and pass on from third parties.

Kampala
If man and woman are equal, why should the former be allowed to have several wives while the latter can only have one husband?

This is the question the Constitutional Court will answer after listening to submission from a human rights organisation, Mifumi (U) Ltd that wants the polygamous marriages declared unconstitutional.

In a petition filed last week, Mifumi claims the practice of one man marrying more than one wife violates the right to equality guaranteed in the Constitution.

Women at risk
Mr Patrick Ndira, who has sworn an affidavit in support of the petition, says polygamy undermines the wellbeing of women, making them susceptible to ailments the man might pick and pass on from third parties.

“It also causes a hemorrhage of resources that would otherwise be expended on the one wife in the home contrary to the provisions of the Constitution,” he says.

Mr Ndira and Ms Hala Elkarib, another witness, also want the Islamic law that allows men to marry more than one wife checked.

Ms Elkarib, a Muslim, in her affidavit, says: “Some Muslim countries have developed their laws to limit polygamy as a practice such as Djibouti, Tunisia, Morroco and Syria. This is based on the guidance of Muslim Ollama (Islamic religious men) from the respective countries and their interpretation based on their studies of the Islamic sharia, the Holy Koran and the Sunna.”

Denounced practice
The duo also say they have travelled widely, including in Muslim countries, and discovered that polygamy is often denounced and not accepted by families and communities.

Ms Elkarib also argues that by giving men a blank cheque while restricting women, polygamy negates the principle of equality between the two sexes. This, she adds, has demeaned the status of women and lowered them to a level less than men.

Basing on this, Mifumi, which is also challenging the practice of paying bride price, wants the Marriage Act, the Marriage and Divorce of Mohammedans Act and the Customary Marriages Registration Act—all laws that allow polygamy—declared unconstitutional. These laws, it argues, have loopholes and must be amended.

The Attorney General has 10 days to respond to the petition.

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