16 February 2017

Uganda: Legislators Disagree Over Divorce, Abortion

Photo: Dominic Bukenya/Daily Monitor
Members of parliament debate during the plenary session recently.

Kampala — There was mixed reactions as members of the10thparliament deliberated on how to re-table the Marriage and Divorce Bill that has spent more than a decade on the floor of parliament.

While giving in their opinions at a workshop organised by Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (Uwopa) on Wednesday, some MPs described debates on divorce and abortion as time wastage while others insisted there should be laws to regulate the two issues.

Ms Dorothy Nshaija, treasurer Uwopa, also Woman MP Kamwenge district, said the Marriage and Divorce Bill has been mistaken for promoting divorce yet its critical purpose is promoting fairness amongst couples in case of divorce.

She said legislators need to sensitise their electorates on the importance of having a law that spells out marriage and break up procedures.

"This Bill includes opinions from all sections of the public. The challenge is that its title sounds like advocating for marriage break ups rather than protecting marriages. We need to educate voters on what the Bill entails and their rights upon break up," Ms Nshaija said.

Mr Simeo Nsubuga, Kassanda County MP, said discussing marriage and divorce was violation of cultural and religious values that have governed marriage and family institutions for years.

"Framers of this Bill made a mistake by not consulting religious institutions. Even our motto says for God and my country, then why should do we promote divorce," Mr Nsubuga said.

Mr Nsubuga scoffed at his fellow MPs saying they only discuss the Bill in hotels but cannot convene meetings to ask voters whether they support the Bill.

"Marriage issues are a secret which do not need to be discussed in public. Even these MPs speak about marriage and divorce issues in hotels but cannot call voters' meeting to discuss their opinions," Mr Nsubuga said.

Mr Mukasa Mbidde, DP's Attorney General, insisted that there should be laws regulating activities intended to unit or disunites persons for family purposes.

"We need to regulate the manner in which marriage activities are administered and the manner in which they are actually disintegrated," Mr Mbidde said.

Ms Noeline Kisembo, Kibaale District Woman MP, said she would not support the Bill that advocates for divorce rather than promoting and protecting family institutions.

"This Bill should not appear like giving leeway to divorce and share of property. Some articles in this Bill need to be repelled as they are likely to cause chaos in families," Ms Kisembo said.

Marriage and Divorce Bill attracted criticism from cultural and religious leaders. In 2013, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Kahinda Otafiire, said majority of MPs and Ugandans were ignorant of the clauses in the Bill. President Museveni also opposed the Bill to the extent of saying as long as he is still president he would never assent to a bad and harsh Bill.

The existing laws on marriage include Customary Marriage (registration) Act Cap 248 (1973), Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act Cap 250 (1961), Marriage and Divorce of Mohammedans Act Cap 252 (1906), Divorce Act Cap 249 (1904). Sections 4(1) &(2), 5, 21-24 and 26 of the Divorce Act were found to be inconsistent with the Constitution of Uganda of 1995.

Mr Mbidde, while sharing his opinion on legalisation of abortion, said when expounding on laws people should not cite the bible and its 10 commandments because they only work in heaven.

"Before we reach heaven, we must take care of what happens here on earth. Sometimes death is necessary for provision of life. Why should one deliver a child of bad memory especially in cases of defilement and rape," Mr Mbidde said.

On December 7, 2015, Police in Kampala arrested two people for helping Irene Kyakunda to abort something that cost her life. Kyakunda was a student at Kampala International University (KIU).

In May, 2015, Hoima hospital revealed that it was treating over 90 students with health conditions related to induce abortion. Ministry of Health says 292,000 abortions are carried out annually in the country translating into 800 per day with more than a half of them procured using crude methods.

A 2013 report by the Centre for Reproductive Health Uganda attributed the high numbers of unsafe abortions to misconceptions among women that lead them to get stigma, fear and secrecy.

Mr Nsubuga disagreed with Mr Mbidde insisting that abortion should be kept as illegal activity before he added that MPs should discuss pressing issues like dry spell but not abortions.

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