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Bride Price | How Much Are You Worth?

Bride price in many African societies is tied to the economic life of the family, what do you really know about bride price?


Across Africa, some believe a bride price instills a sense of accountability into a marriage while others feel bride price encourages domestic violence.

Across Africa, some believe a bride price instills a sense of accountability into a marriage while others feel bride price encourages domestic violence.

What is bride price? 

Traditionally, bride price is when the prospective husband is expected to give a certain amount of money and goods, including cattle, goats, blankets or cowrie shells before marriage is agreed. The practice is similar to buying an engagement ring except that the bride price usually went to the bride's parents in exchange for marriage. Sometimes the bride price is just a token gift in order to satisfy tradition.

Uganda's Supreme Court ruled that bride price, when a man pays his future in-laws for his fiancĂ©e’s hand in marriage, is legal. However, the judges in a 6 -1 decision banned the practice of refunding the bride price on the dissolution of a marriage.

The tradition of bride price is strongly entrenched in cultures across sub-Saharan Africa. In the northern part of Malawi, the bride price known as malobolo or chuma is said to legitimize a marriage and as the wedding ring symbolizes unity between two people, the bride price is a symbol of unity between two families. Bride price instills a sense of accountability into a marriage.


In traditional societies in Africa, the bride’s family may receive cattle from the groom, or the groom’s family, as the brideprice for their daughter. When girls run away from their parents to avoid an unwanted marriage, they may end up in poor urban communities, including brothel environments.


When poverty is acute, a young girl may be regarded as an economic burden and her marriage to a much older man can be a family survival strategy. Poverty, not customary laws might induce parents to sell daughters for the purpose of marriage.


Wedding rings symbol of unity
Wedding rings symbol of unity

MIFUMI, women’s rights organization based in Uganda states, “bride price subjects women to violence and abuse as they are equated to property that has been purchased. Furthermore, women cannot leave an abusive marriage unless they refund the bride price paid for them which most cannot afford to.”

Ugandan women no longer have to refund their bride price after a divorce, according to a new ruling from the country’s Supreme Court. Under the original custom, women were ordered to pay a refund if the marriage ended. 

The Kenyan constitution outlaws the obligation to pay a bride price but it is widely understood that it will be paid. Bride price should not be confused with dowry. A is dowry money or property that a wife or wife's family gives to her husband when the wife and husband marry in Northern Africa and many other parts of the world. 

Women in Kenya must overcome many obstacles to ensure real equality.  Large segments of society still resort to customary laws and traditions in marriage and divorce. Marriage can itself, lead to destitute poverty of women through divorce, separation or abandonment. 

The Government aims to enhance society's awareness of women's role in the socio-economic, political and cultural transformation of the country; uphold women's rights and change relevant inheritance laws; ensure women's participation in education, economic activities and employment and improve mother-child health care services.

The Government has abolished child and arranged marriages; prohibited bride price and dowry, raised the legal age for marriage to 18 years and ensured equal rights of women to initiate divorce proceedings. Every citizen has the right of access to land for housing and farming upon reaching the age of 18. Very often, the only option for girls and women in situations of extreme marital stress is to run away.

Though illegal, dangerous traditional practices such as circumcision prevail in many areas. According to WHO, more than 50 percent of Kenya's women have undergone ritual circumcision. Starting in 1983, President Daniel Arap Moi issued a decree prohibiting the practice of female genital cutting.

However, elders from a tribe in northern Kenya adamantly opposed his decision, forcing Moi to retreat and seek new ways of addressing women’s rights. Ritual circumcision in many parts of Africa symbolizes adulthood, making young women eligible for marriage.

Another issue is women’s inheritance rights are limited under customary marriage law. The male family members of the deceased have the legal right to the man’s property. This can leave the widow and children with a lack of shelter and economic support.

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Being African in America I have grown up learning about different ethnic cultures. My father and mother are historians of African culture and history and their influence expanded my activities to several best-selling cookbooks, magazine columns, self-branded products, and a popular African culture and food blog.

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