Bride Price: No ‘Cows Back’ Ruling By Ugandan Court Clashes With Customary Law

Bride Price: No ‘Cows Back’ Ruling By Ugandan Court Clashes With Customary Law

By Morgan Winsor | From International Business Times

When she was just 14 years-old, Florence Abbo found herself trapped in an abusive marriage with no way out other than death. She was forced to work on her husband’s farm under the hot sun every day from dawn till dusk. If her day-long labor did not satisfy him, she suffered beating and verbal abuse. Abbo’s husband also demanded she give birth to as many children as he wished. And when she could not get pregnant right away, he mistreated her further and married a second wife.

For Abbo, a young women in rural Uganda, divorce or running away was not an option. Abbo’s husband had paid her parents a full bride price of cattle and shilling to marry their daughter and they could not afford to refund the payment, which the bride’s parents were obliged to do if the marriage ended. If she ran away, she would have no money and no place to go. Bound to her violent husband by a customary practice of Ugandan wedding culture, Abbo saw suicide as her best choice.

Abbo was one of many Ugandan women who were locked in unhappy marriages because of bride price, which remains entrenched in cultural tradition among various ethnic groups across sub-Saharan Africa. But a court decision this month hailed by activists as a milestone for women’s rights has given hope to Ugandan women like Abbo. By a 6-1 majority ruling, Uganda’s Supreme Court on Aug. 4 banned the practice of refunding a bride price in the dissolution of marriage. The judges fell short, however, of declaring the practice itself unconstitutional and legal experts said the court ruling will be difficult to implement at the local level in rural communities, where clan elders enforce the customary norms.

“It’s still a tradition that carries a lot of weight. I think it will depend place-to-place because there’s real symbolic value to bride price and some people will hold onto it,” said Aparna Polavarapu, an assistant professor at University of South Carolina School of Law who has done rights-based advocacy in Uganda. “In at least some places, there’s going to be some resistance.”

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