Uganda’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that refunding of goods paid to a bride’s family after divorce was illegal, sparking celebration by rights groups who said women would no longer be “chained in violent relationships.”

In Uganda, as in many nations, the custom of the groom or his family paying a sum of money or property – known as a “bride price” – to the parents of the bride upon a marriage has a long tradition.

Bride prices are payments made from the groom’s family to the bride’s – the opposite of dowries paid in some countries, where the bride hands goods over to the man.

The Supreme Court ruled that refunding it upon dissolution of a customary marriage was unconstitutional, after local women’s rights group Mifumi launched an appeal following an earlier court decision, arguing the practice contributed to domestic violence.

“Refunding compromises the dignity of the woman,” Chief JusticeBart Katureebe said, according to the Daily Monitor newspaper, adding that paying a dowry back implied a woman was in a marriage as though on “loan.”

Mifumi said the judge’s decision was a “landmark in the history of Uganda” that meant women were “now free to walk out of an abusive relationship without fear” of how their family would pay back the bride price.

Mifumi said the payment of a bride price “reduces the status of women to cattle, to property that can be earned and paid for and exchanged for goods.”

The charity, along with 12 other individuals, first launched a 2007 petition at the Constitutional Court, arguing that the refunding of bride price portrayed women “as an article in a market for sale” amounting to “degrading treatment.”

The court however dismissed the petition in 2010, with the group then taking the case to the Supreme Court.


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