Women rights organizations have reignited calls for Parliament to consider the controversial Marriage and Divorce Bill.
The bill seeks to prohibit widow inheritance, grants certain rights to cohabiting couples and equalizes prejudiced divorce provisions which granted absolute rights to men. It was designed in part to improve women’s rights in marriage and to reform and consolidate the laws relating to marriage, separation and divorce.
Tabled as the Domestic relations bill, in 2003, the draft was rejected by Muslim groups opposed to the provisions banning polygamy. After being rejected by Parliament in 2006, the bill was split into a Muslim Personal Law Bill, which covers Muslim marriages, and the Marriage and Divorce Bill.
The drafts were however shelved following wide condemnation from a section of religious leaders and members of the public arguing that the proposals within were alien to African culture.
Some of the controversial proposals include among others, those that pertain to bride price, a customary practice requiring payment of consideration by a groom to his wife’s family. The current Marriage and Divorce Bill states that bride price cannot be treated as a prerequisite for marriage, and makes criminal the act of demanding repayment of bride price.
However, during a meeting between the Women Democracy Group (WDG) and Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) Monday, UWOPA chairperson Monica Amoding observed that there are wrong assumptions about the bill, widely seen to be a recipe for divorce in communities.
Amoding says the last consultation on the bill by MPs was majorly biased, which did not give the public right information on the content of the proposed law.
Ritah Aciro, the executive director of Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) noted that the bill only seeks to consolidate the Marriage Act and Divorce Act, which are already in place, contrary to popular belief that it is a divorce-centered bill.
Bukoto East MP Florence Namayanja says with 23 out of 178 clauses already passed by Parliament, it is prudent that legislators scrutinize the bill and weigh the its merits against the demerits.
In 2013, President Yoweri Museveni urged the MPs not to push for the bill, arguing it would cause a civil war in the country. Among the bills also lined up for scrutiny is Sexual Offenses Bill, which was tabled last year.