The laws of Uganda recognize customary marriage as one of four types of marriage in Uganda. Customary marriage is a marriage celebrated according to the rites of an African community and one of the parties to which is a member of that community. In Uganda, cultural marriages such as; Kwanjula, Kuhingira, kweranga among others, are on their own valid and are therefore recognized alongside the other marriages. However, it is often demanded and has also become a common practice in Uganda for religious marriage to be added after the traditional cultural one. As much as it is legal, it is also a common misconception. One does not have to have a religious marriage if they do not want to or if they cannot afford to have two different marriage ceremonies. The same rights enjoyed in a religious/civil marriage are equally enjoyed in a cultural marriage.
However, it should be noted that customary marriages are potentially polygamous, which is the common cause for a need to add a religious marriage to curb the complications that come with polygamy.
Requirements for a customary marriage.
It must be noted that the customs should not be contrary to the principles of natural justice and morality. Section 14 of the Judicature Act, Article 33 (6) of the 1995 Constitution prohibits laws, cultures and customs or traditions that are against the welfare or interest of women or that undermine their rights. The Marriage should be conducted according to rights of an African community, where bride price has to be paid, it must be paid in full. This depends on the custom, for instance in the Baganda, persons from the same kinship (clan) cannot marry each other. Age of the wife is considered to be 16 years and the husband 18. However, this must be aligned with the constitution that provides for 18 years as the age of capacity marry. Consent of the parents is a must and it but the consent of the girl is not always sought.
Procedure of registration of a customary marriage.
Parties to a customary marriage have to register it with the Registrar of Marriages at the Uganda Registration Service Bureau (URSB) and while at District level the registration is done by the office of the CAO (Chief Administrative Officer). The registration should be done as soon as is possible, but in any event not less than 6 months after completion of the marriage ceremonies. Non registration of the marriage within the 6 months does not invalidate it but may attract a penalty for fee for out of time (late) registration. Couples seeking a certificate must produce witnesses, letters of parental consent and passport photographs before they can be issued one.
If there is no marriage certificate, by evidence that according to the customs and the laws of a given tribe, a marriage exists in Uganda. It can be proved by cohabitation of the parties which occurs after proof of the ceremony (this can be include, photos of the ceremony, witnesses etc.)
Conclusively, the legality of customary marriages is a cornerstone to uphold African traditional norms and values in high respect. As such they prevail with or without an added religious marriage.
No information contained in this alert should be construed as legal advice from Centre for Public Interest Law or the individual authors, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.
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