By Rukiya Makuma
Marriage and Divorce Bill advocates are counting on the Speaker’s goodwill
On Aug. 26 during Forum for Women in Development’s Annual General meeting at their head office in Kampala, women activists echoed the need to re-introduce the 2009 Marriage and Divorce Bill in Parliament.
The objective of the bill is to reform and consolidate the law relating to marriage, separation and divorce; to provide for the types of recognised marriages in Uganda, marital rights and duties, recognition of cohabitation in relation to property rights, grounds for breakdown of marriage, rights of parties on dissolution of marriage and for other connected purposes.
Betty Amongi the chairperson of Uganda Women Parlaimentery Association and MP for Oyam County South says once passed into law, the Bill will help those who have been affected in relationships.
Though it promises a secure future for the majority of people especially children who have been greatly affected by parent s’ decision to dissolve the relationship, it was received harshly by different sections of the public. Most people took it as women’s law that entitles them to half the property attained in the marriage or relationship. Religious leaders and traditional leaders regarded the law with contempt and argued that it encouraged divorce and cohabiting which are against the teachings of the Bible.
Amongi says they are proposals to change the controversial name to “Family law”. She says they are consulting with the Law Reform Commission and some agencies to come up with the best name that will reflect the purpose of the law and move away from the misconception that has been surrounded by the name.
Monica Amoding the Youth representative says there are high chances that the bill will make it this year. She said the activists who support the Bill will take advantage of the new Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga and the new Attorney General, Kahinda Otafiire, and present the law and the advantages that the country stands to benefit in case it’s passed into law.
She said though the public has mistaken the law to cater for the interests of women only, it is a family law in reality which will help manage the property in the family, sexual rights and education of the children because it advocates for the rights of children and spouses in the family .
Amoding says the Bill provides for equal sharing of wealth accumulated when a couple is living together regardless of the relationship status because people invest a lot in these relationships but sometimes when things do not work out for both spouses and they decide to go separate ways one partner is hurt in one way or another. “How do you help children in such situations, how do they continue to leave a desired life with only the support of one spouse, what happens if these children are thrown out of home” Amoding questions.
What has changed?
Solome Nakaweesi the chairperson for FOWODE said some of the controversial clauses in the Bill were harmonised and that the Bill will go a long way in “blending families and marriages”.
Amongi says this time around they have the good will of the people and they are targeting religious and traditional leaders who were totally against the bill.
Jane Alisemera Babiha, the former chairperson of Uganda Women Parliamentarians Association says the Bill did not pass the test in the 8th Parliament because there was limited time and it was brought forward in the last few days when parliament was about to close.
She points out that the Bill does not recognise cohabiting as a marriage, “Throughout the whole document, the Bill clearly differentiates between marriage and cohabitation when referring to people in relationships and does not recognise cohabiting as a legal form of marriage,” she says.
Alisemera called upon the new members of parliament to familiarise themselves with the new law and understand what is says. She said people associate it with divorce and yet when a marriage occurs there is a possibility of a divorce in case things do not work out.
“There is no need for people to stay in a marriage that is not fruitful because some people have been murdered in the process yet maybe the murders could have been averted if the two parties had agreed to separate amicably,” she says.
Wilfred Niwagaba, a member of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, says it has considered the Bill and proposed some amendments which they recommended to the House.
The Bill was among the 22 pending bills which were not passed into law in the last parliament. It was previously known as the Domestic Relations Bill and has been pending since 1987.