By JOHN MUTO-ONO P’LAJUR
GULU-UGANDA: The Acholi cultural institution, Ker Kwaro Acholi (KKA), has imposed harsh penalties for pre- marital sex, adultery and has outlawed gay and child marriages among its subjects as means to promote girl-child education, curb the vices of un-wanted pregnancies, unplanned children and harmful foreign cultures among youths of the community.
This was unveiled on Saturday, February 20, 2021 by three officials of the institution; Rwot (Chief) Collins Atiko of Paiko Chiefdom, Mr. John Stephen Okello, the Personal Assistant to the Institution’s Paramount Chief, Rwot David Onen-Acana II, and Jacob Kilama, the Administrator to the Institution, during a Radio Mega FM’s Te- Yat (Under the tree) Talk Show program.
The fine for committing adultery, if found out or caught red handed with a married woman or eloping with a married woman is a total of four cows whose market values are UGX 3 million shillings (US$ 830).The fine for premarital sex if caught, or found out or eloping with an unmarried girl or woman is a total of UGX (US$ 1,100).
The institution has also outlawed gay marriages, lesbianism, incest and child marriages but fell short of pronouncing any penalty for such vices as these are criminal offences under Uganda laws and can only be prosecuted by the state. However the affected person can pursue civil suit for premarital sex, incest and adultery cases.
The institution has also outlawed importation of expensive cultural practices from other cultures, which, according to it, erode its cherished cultural values, hindrance to establishment of lawful and stable families and encourage co-habiting because many boys cannot afford expensive bridal wealth imposed on prospective suitors
“Our boys and girls are co-habiting because they cannot afford exorbitant bridal wealth. They are producing children outside lawful marriages because they simply cannot afford the exorbitant bridal wealth since we have commercialized marriages. Many parents now take daughters as commodities in the market who have price tags. Why do you charge your son-in-law up to UGX 90 million shillings (US$ 2482) simply because your daughter is educated? This is outrageous and robbery of the highest order”, says Rwot Collins Atiko.
According to the institution, the maximum a family can charge as bridal wealth should not exceed UGX 12 million shillings (US$ 3320) and not below UGX 9,600,000 shillings (US$ 2652). However, this can still go down dramatically when you take in – kind some of the items on the assessment list. Cases in point are the cows, goats and other commodities whose prices can come down through bargaining with the seller. Uganda is a free-market economy and does not encourage price controls.
“We will help the youths who want to have spouses and have stable families. We should not punish our young boys who want to get wives. Who does not want his daughter to get married? This measure will stop domestic violence. We shall not support you if you are caught, especially defiling a school girl simply because you have silenced the victim’s parents. The law must deal with you”, says Rwot Atiko.
According to counsel and former parliamentary aspirant for Bardege-Layibi parliamentary seat in Gulu City, Tonny Kitara, this cultural by-law does not conflict with the 1995 national Constitution and his very timely for harmony in Acholi society. He however advised everybody to register and get certificates for their customary marriages with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URBS) within six months according to the law of Uganda.
He says while customary certificates allow polygamous families, Christian wedding are monogamous. This is important because it protects women with customary certificates whose husband may later dump them and marry younger girls in Christian weddings. He says this certificate will be a protection to the widow in case her spouse dies and very helpful for travels outside Uganda.
“It is important that our cultural leaders sit with religious leaders, whom some of them still think that all customary practices are sinful and therefore bad. Since most customary marriages recognize polygamous marriages, a man who enters in a polygamous marriage cannot take either wife to wed in church.
One of the regular panelists on Te-Yat program, Mrs. Rosalba Oywaa laments that there is no more dignity and respect for young wives in Achoii and she appealed to the cultural institution to sensitize the youths on the values of stable families and norms.
“We need to teach our young families, especially girls to stick to only one sexual partner. We need our daughters attain matrimonial values. Somebody’s wife must be a married wife. I don’t encourage co-habiting which has become the normal marriages nowadays”, she laments.
According to Mr. Okello, the cultural institution is responding to numerous cries of its subjects over the rate of school dropout among school girls because of teenage marriages, pregnancies and exorbitant bridal wealth being charged by parents of girls; and the negative effect of foreign cultures.
According to Uganda’s The Independent Magazine, over one million children enroll every year for primary education but only 600,000 complete Primary Level Education (PLE), 300,000 for Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) and a paltry 100,000 sit for Uganda Advance Certificate of Education (UACE) between 2017 and 2018.
According to a UN- OCHA report of 2020, there are several factors why boys and girls drop out of school in Northern Uganda namely; lingering effects of the conflict which affected the region for over twenty years, weak economic system, changing social fabric, gender inequality and consideration of real gains a household can get in the short term versus education in the long term.
The Acholi ethnic community occupies Northern Uganda and some were cut off in South Sudan by the colonialists. In Northern Uganda, they are culturally ruled by 57 different chiefs, each independent of the other but would always come together when common issues arise to maintain harmony among them.