1 March 2013

Uganda: Marriage Bill Causes Uproar Among MPs

There was uproar in Parliament as debate on the controversial Marriage and Divorce Bill, 2009.

As the debate raged on, some MPs, mostly women, took exception of the proposal to recognise cohabitation as being equal to a marriage after 10 years, while others argued that it is immoral and sinful.

The other contentious issue was abolition of payment of bride price. While some MPs are bitterly opposed to the abolition of payment of bride price, others want it abolished, arguing that it reduces women to "sellable objects".

Kahinda Otafiire, the justice minister contended that cohabitation was a reality and cannot be wished away.

"You have to recognise the practice of cohabitation that leads to off-springs and therefore, we want obligations to the people involved. What will you do to protect the children from cohabitation," Otafiire said.

Maria Nalubega (Butambala district) said her constituents support the payment of bride price and don't want it abolished. She, however, said they don't support the refund of bride price.

John Mulimbwa (Samia Bugwe North) supported Nalubega, saying families should be free to give marriage gifts.

The Bill makes it an offence to demand the return of the marriage gift. But Sanjay Tanna (Tororo Municipality) said it is embedded in the culture that when the marriage breaks down, the gifts are returned.

Clause 14 of the Bill says marriage gifts are not an essential requirement for any marriage under the law, but adds that where a marriage gift is given, a person who demands for a refund is liable to a fine not exceeding sh480,000 or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.

Raphael Magyezi (Igara West) said that sensitisation of Ugandans about the Bill should be done before it is passed to avoid controversies.

But Speaker Rebecca Kadaga said the Bill had been in Parliament for a long time and thus the need to be discussed.

Labour state minister Mwesigwa Rukutana said marriage was a social contract therefore needs regulation for performance and termination.

Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala central) said the Bill focuses on sharing assets but forgets that people have huge liabilities as well.

"What happens to the liabilities. If a man has a liability of sh60b they should share it with the woman," Nsereko cautioned.

He expressed fear that the grounds for dissolution of marriage might deter people from getting married.

He said the Bill should seek to promote marriage and make it difficult to divorce.

Pastor Martin Ssempa alongside other pastors and members of the public were present in the public gallery during the debate.

Earlier in the day, Women MPs under their umbrella body, the Uganda Women Parliamentarians Association (UWOPA), at Imperial Royale Hotel, resolved that the cohabitation provision be resisted.

They argue that cohabitation and marriage cannot be interchanged since the former is not a "form of marriage" recognised in Uganda's laws.

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