5 April 2007

Uganda: Adultery No Longer a Crime

Kampala — Adultery is no longer a criminal offence in Uganda. The Constitutional Court scrapped it from the Penal Code yesterday.

In a landmark ruling, the court unanimously said Section 154 of the Penal Code Act, which criminalised adultery, was unconstitutional because it treated men and women differently.

The court also nullified several sections of the Succession Act, which dealt with property for widows, guardianship of children and domicile upon marriage. The judges added that the laws treated women as second-class citizens and were therefore inconsistent with the Constitution.

The ruling is a major victory for women activists. The petitions were brought before the court by the Law and Advocacy for Women in Uganda in 2005 and 2006. The Court joined the petitions.

"We will ensure that all discriminatory laws are removed so that Parliament enacts laws in accordance with the Constitution," said director Dora Byamukama after the ruling.

The adultery law prescribed different penalties and remedies for men and women. It pre-supposed that only married men could be aggrieved in case of adultery.

An aggrieved husband was compensated with sh600, which later went up to sh1,200, but an aggrieved wife got nothing.

Also, the wives now do not have to cite different grounds to seek divorce. Previously, wives had to prove cruelty and desertion, in addition to adultery, to secure a divorce while husbands only had to prove adultery.

The Succession Act provisions which were struck out include Section 27, referring to intestacy, meaning a spouse dying without making a Will. The law provided that in such a case the administrator-general took over the family property, leaving the widow with no rights.

The court also agreed with the petitioners that the law was unfair to entitle widows to 15% of the husband's property, while it was silent on the widower, thus assuming he was entitled to 100%.

Also scrapped was Section 26, terminating a widow's rights to the matrimonial property as soon as she remarried, while a widower kept his rights when he remarried.

The court also deleted Section 43, which gave only fathers the right to decide on the guardianship of their children if one parent died. The court agreed that this undermined the mother's rights and presupposed that women were incapable.

Removed was also Section 44, which gave the male lineage rights over the female lineage when a husband dies. The law provided that the husband's male relatives took over the family property and offspring, wresting control out of the widow's hands.

Also scrapped were sections 14 and 15, which prescribed that the wife moved to her husband's home area. She would consequently lose both homes in case she divorced. The Court agreed that this impacted on the woman's rights.

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