By Milton Olupot
and Hillary Nsambu
A womenâ€™s rights organisation has asked the Constitutional Court to abolish bride price, calling it unconstitutional and a recipe for domestic violence.
â€œThe payment of the bride price turns women into commodities. There is haggling for the highest price,â€ according to the group, called Mifuma Project.
â€œMany children are taken out of school so that they can be married off, as the parents want material benefits,â€ their lawyer, Ladieslaus Rwakafuzi, said yesterday while defending the petition.
Bride price, he argued, breaches the Constitution, which provides for equality between men and women, and gives rise to inequality in marriage.
The petition was filed in 2007 by MIFUMI and individuals who have been affected by the practice.
The bride price, Rwakafuzi told the court, interferes with the consent of both the bride and the groom, since there is interference from third parties such as relatives.
â€œMany people have entered marriage without their consent but to please their parents and relatives.â€
Because bride price is paid under the condition that it must be refunded upon break-up of marriage, he said, its dissolution in case the parties can no longer live together is restricted.
Co-lawyer Turner Atuki narrated the story of Deborah Awori of Bugayi parish in Busia district, a witnesses in the petition.
Awori tried in vain to stop her daughter, a P.7 pupil, from being forcefully married off and was kicked out of the matrimonial home by her husband.
â€œJagweri James, whose wife was denied burial for one week as he struggled in his grief to raise her bride price, is another witness who will anxiously await the ruling,â€ she said.
MIFUMI says it carried out a survey in Tororo in 2001 and the majority voted in favour of bride price reform.
As a result, Tororo district in September 2008 passed the Bridal Gift Ordinance that prohibits bride price. Under the ordinance, the bride price becomes a gift that is freely given and received.
â€œBride price is about the sale of human beings which is unacceptable in this post-slavery era.â€
Deputy Chief Justice Laeticia Kikonyogo heard the petition. State attorney Patricia Mutesi said the culture of bride price was protected under the Constitution and other laws which take care of marriage problems. Kenneth Kakuru, a Kampala lawyer acting for the respondent, said the cases cited applied to the Tororo culture.
In the Ankole culture, he said, â€œOkujugaâ€ did not mean the payment of bride price. Other cultures should be allowed to enjoy their cultural beliefs, he argued.