Marriage is supposed to be entered into by two consenting adults, but bride price brings in a third party on whose demands the marriage becomes an all persons affair.
This violates people’s liberty which is protected under Rwanda’s constitution, under the protection and promotion of fundamental and other human rights and freedoms.
The argument that people choose to go into customary marriage ‘freely’ is erroneous because traditional marriage is the only method open to most of the women in Rwanda who are subject to customary law.
Even church marriages are denied to those Christians wishing to bless their marriage in church if they have not yet fulfilled the traditional requirements of bride price.
Marriage at the Registrars courts at district headquarters is affordable.
The main position of customary law is the subordinate position of women and this practice is greatly reinforced by bride price.
These women do not have the economic, social or political freedom to exercise this so-called ‘freedom of choice.
’ When their marriage goes wrong and they want to leave, often after years of physical and psychological violence, they must first refund cows regardless of their contribution to the marriage in both a reproductive and productive capacity.
Whereas the government may be right in saying the constitution allows for cultural practices, one wonders whether the creeping commercial practice of bride price refund is also part of culture?
This results into the sale of hundreds of young girls each year into marriage, and the age at which they are getting married off is younger and younger each year which certainly hampers the law on defilement.
I would suggest for a sober look at this custom that clearly denies poor people, especially women, their rights as stipulated under the constitution.
The custom mainly oppresses poor people.
Finally, I feel that it is befitting that the Constitutional Court to address its legal mind to this matter.