By Maria Immaculate Owechi
Last week, drama unfolded on Bukedde TV’s local news bulletin, Agataliko Nfuufu when a woman showed up in church to stop her husband’s wedding to his third companion. Erisa Ssettuba (78) who has three partners was shocked when his estranged second ‘wife’, Betty Nakityo showed up with a customary marriage certificate to stop his wedding with partner number three, Teopista Nabakooza.
Nakityo presented a customary certificate to Martyr’s Church, Nateete where the wedding was being held. To her shock however, the wedding commenced because her certificate was considered invalid. Why? You may ask.
Some people assume that the certificate was invalid because it was from a customary/ traditional marriage and not a church wedding. That is not true.
The church adheres to the laws of the land, and according to Marriage Registration Act of Uganda, which was introduced in 1973, customary marriage is one of the marriages that can be legally registered.
A customary marriage in simple terms is one conducted according to the traditions of a people, for example, for Baganda it is Kwanjula, Kuhingira for the Banyankole, Rango nyako in Lango, and Retedka for the Madi community in West Nile.
The law of the Republic of Uganda says a customary marriage between a couple should be registered with Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) before six months elapse. If a couple doesn’t register it, however, their marriage remains legally binding and acceptable.
Important to note, is that a customary marriage may be polygamous, however, after a man has married multiple partners customarily, he may not marry one of them in church because the law already recognises his other wives as legal partners. Still, in case he has only customarily married one, he can have a church marriage with her since it does not break the monogamy rule of the church.
It is important for a customary marriage to be registered by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) for a couple to be able to reap benefits. Even if a man has more than one wife, they can all be legally registered.
In a recent report released in the New Vision, 70% of couples under the age of 40 have not registered their customary marriages with URSB.
Bemanya Twebaze, the URSB registrar general in an interview with Daily Monitor says that many customary marriages are not registered due to lack of awareness that it is a legally recognised type of marriage or they feel legitimacy is got through a civil or religious ceremony.
This is the procedure one should undergo to register their customary marriage
“After, the customary marriage, the couple is supposed to appear with two witnesses before a sub-county chief of the area where the ceremony took place or the town clerk, if the marriage took place in a town or municipality,” Bemanya explains.
“A certificate of customary marriage will be issued on payment of a fee. Thereafter, a copy of the certificate and a cover letter from the sub-county chief or town clerk, are brought to URSB offices for the marriage to be registered and entered onto the Marriage Register. The registration process costs Shs20,000 if registered within six months of the ceremony occurring, and Shs40,000 if registered after six months of the marriage ceremony,” he adds.
He also explains that having a valid marriage certificate has benefits such as the following:
When filing for applications for a visa to travel abroad, passport, citizenship, change of name or divorce, the marriage certificate will be required.
It allows one to share spousal benefits at work and in case of the demise of a spouse, their spouse(s) and children are able to benefit from the estates.
Also, today many Ugandans have savings with financial institutions and other saving funds, including National Social Security Fund (NSSF). The savings may not be released by any bank or fund to a claiming spouse unless they produce a certificate of marriage certified by URSB.
Remember, your customary marriage is as valid as a church or civil marriage, but to reap extra benefits in case of death, divorce or need to travel, a certificate is a must-have.
NOTE: My Wedding had earlier stated that a customary marriage that is not registered with URSB is invalid after a period of six months. However, with further legal research, we have ascertained that the marriage remains valid, although some benefits can’t be reaped as stated above. We therefore urge couples to register their traditional/customary marriages.