2 October 2009

Uganda: Half of Church Marriages Fake

Kampala — Almost half of the marriage certificates presented to the Registrar General's office for verification are found fake because they were issued by a church that is not authorised to conduct marriages.

Out of an average of 24 certificates the office receives for verification monthly, 10 are confiscated because they were issued by churches which are not authorised to wed people, according to Anthony Oyuko, in charge of marriages.

Some visa offices and scholarship organisations take applicants' certificates to the Registrar General's office for verification.

Oyuko explained that many unsuspecting couples have missed scholarships and visas because the marriage certificates they presented were found to be invalid. "Many people have missed opportunities as a result of having unauthorised certificates," Oyuko said. "Unfortunately, these people may never know about it. The embassies may write to us or send their agents for verification and we respond to them."

Anglican and Catholic churches as well as mosques are automatically licensed to wed couples. However, of the non-traditional churches, only 75 have been licensed by the Attorney General.

These include Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist churches and Bahai temples. There are currently over 20,000 Born Again churches in Uganda, according to Dr. Joseph Sserwadda, the Presiding Apostle of the Born Again Faith Federation.

This means that only one out of every 300 non-traditional churches is authorised to conduct a wedding.

Oyuko explained that each branch of a church has to be licensed independently. When the main branch is licensed to wed couples, it does not mean all branches can do so.

"It is safer to find out from our office whether the church you are planning to wed from is licensed," he advised. "You lose less when inquiring about your church's status than you loose in opportunities when you are being disqualified."

A church must be registered as a non-governmental organisation, a company limited by guarantee or as a Trust.

Officials from the office of the Registrar General have to inspect the place of worship before writing a report. The place should not be in a residential house, near a discotheque, a bar or lodge. In addition, the church is required to submit a list of pastors and their qualifications during the application process.

Those that get a license are required to submit records of marriages conducted on a regular basis to the Registrar General's office.

If, however, a couple has a civil or a customary marriage ceremony, their marriage is legally binding even if the church is not authorised. The Ugandan law recognises civil, religious and customary marriages.

Those who undergo a customary marriage are supposed to go to the chief administrative officer (CAO) in their district or to the Registrar General's office with documentary evidence within six months.

They are then issued with a marriage certificate. Those who report after six months, can still get the certificate but need to pay a fine.

Pastor Anthony Owalu of Hope Restoration Ministries in Kireka said he was "shocked" to learn that not every registered church automatically qualifies to wed couples.

"I should find out if the church where I married from is licensed," Owalu said. "If that is the case, then it means many marriages are actually invalid."

The chairman of the National Fellowship of Born Again Pentecostal Churches in Uganda, Apostle Alex Mitala, explained that the Pentecostal churches were still in the process of acquiring licenses.

"We formed a fellowship so that those of us with licenses can marry members of churches that have not yet qualified," said Mitala, who heads a 10,000-member fellowship of churches.

"Small churches find it difficult to buy land, especially in the city where it is very expensive. They might not be allowed to wed couples but that should not stop them from conducting prayers."

Requirements for licensing a place of worship to conduct marriages

-Application letter addressed to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional affairs through the Registrar of Marriages

-List of pastors and there qualifications

-Certified copies of registration

-Any other documents if any

-Letter of inspection, approval and confirmation of the place of worship from the town clerk if the church is located in a town council

-Letter of inspection, approval and confirmation from the chief administrative officer of the district if outside a town council

-Certified copy of land title or tenancy agreement for the premises of the place of worship

-Certified copy of occupational permit

-Report on inspection carried out by the officials from the Registrar General of Marriages in the presence of relevant local government authorities

-Photographs of the place of worship and its surroundings

-It should have room for expansion

-It should not be in a residential house

-It should not be near a discotheque, bar or lodge

-It should be in a quiet ambience

Requirements for Civil Marriage

- Intending couples must appear in person for an interview before the Registrar of Marriages, who shall then approve the notice of Marriage to be put on the notice board.

- After satisfying the Registrar with the basic requirements, the intending couple fills in the notice of marriage form and the witness form.

- The couple then pays the necessary fees as determined by the Registrar.

- The notice of marriage shall be on the Notice board for a period of 21 days and before expiry of three months.

- Upon the expiry of 21 days and there being no objection to the proposed marriage, the intending couple chooses an appropriate week day from 10:00am to 4:00pm.

- The intending couple then appears before the registrar smartly dressed with two adult witnesses, preferably married and two rings.

- Notice must be given by the couple one week before the celebration of the marriage to schedule for it.

- If one of the parties is a foreigner, they should come with a letter confirming single status.

- Those contracting second marriages should produce a death certificate or decree absolute.

- If the couple want a special licence to be married within less than the stipuilated time period, then theyt should provide a strong reason, with a supporting evidence. However, notice of the day of the celebration of marriage should be given to the registrar's clerk one week before.

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