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Study links payment of bride price to abuse of women

The practice of paying bride price is one of the factors contributing to women in Tanzania suffering sexual abuse, battery and denial of their right to own property, a study conducted by the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) says.

The association's report is based on a survey it conducted between January and March in 10 of Tanzania mainland's 21 regions. The survey showed that young men who could not afford bride price ended up living with women and having children without formal marriages.

A resident of Dar es Salaam, Lucy Koloa, told IRIN on Tuesday: "Paying bride price is sometimes regarded as buying someone. When my husband died 15 years ago, some of his relatives suggested that his younger brother should take me as his second wife. I refused to accept such nonsense.

"I was only 28 years old then. I left that family, with my two children whom I have managed to raise as a single parent. No one from that family is coming to visit me or my two children, not even the one who was prepared to inherit me."

According to the report, some families force their daughters to drop out of school to get married, sometimes to rich old men who are able to pay huge sums in bride price without even testing for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Dar es Salaam housewife Eva Makona said when a man paid bride price, the woman would leaves her family and join the man's.

"As a matter of tradition, she has to obey the 'lawful' wishes and standards of her new family," she said. "Unfortunately, this is overdone by some people who end up regarding a woman as mere property. They sometimes fail to appreciate that a woman contributes to the wealth of the family and if one is not careful one could lose her rights to property should she be widowed."

The study involved interviews of 725 people, 439 of them women, from the country's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, as well as in the regions of Iringa, Ruvuma, Mara, Tanga, Mwanza, Dodoma, Manyara, Morogoro and Coast.

"We did not go deep into the villages, but we believe the findings represent the general feelings [in the country]," Ananilea Nkya, the director of the media association, said.

Some 500 respondents, representing 69 percent of all those interviewed, said dowry had a link to abuse of women in marriage as some men regarded their wives as property because they had paid for them.

The study also found that some parents took bride price as their income, therefore charging exorbitant amount of cash or property. In some areas, parents ask for up to 50 head of cattle, the study says. Items offered as bride price include cash, livestock, land, clothes and equipment such motor vehicles and bicycles.

The association conducted the study to assess the effects of dowry with regard to violence against women, and to provoke national debate in a bid to raise awareness on the negative impact of the practice. It also aimed at proposing ways of rectifying the situation.

A primary school teacher, Ludovick Sombanyi, said on Tuesday that the solution lay in taking girls to school, which would in turn help them to become independent, whether or not the bride price is paid for them.

"Many parents fail to educate their daughters and this makes them economically weak and causes them to develop an inferiority complex during their adulthood, a factor that makes them servants or slaves of their partners in life," he said.

However, while admitting that bride price contributed, to some extent, to the abuse of women, Sombanyi said the practise should not be abolished; instead, he said, communities must be enlightened on women's rights.

The association reported that some of the women interviewed listed some of the abuses they continued to endure due to bride price as insults, sexual abuse, battery, denial of their rights to own property, being overworked and having to bear a large number of children.

Women also complained of some men's tendency to reclaim the bride price when marriages broke up, saying fear of this outcome forced women to cling to their marriages even when abused.

However, Tanzania's Marriage Act of 1971 does not mention bride price as a prerequisite for marriage, although the practice is widely accepted among the country's numerous ethnic communities.

Meanwhile, 225 respondents, representing 31 percent of all those interviewed, denied that bride price had any connection with the abuse of women. They said abusing women was a matter of an individual's character. This group of respondents want the practice maintained as a way of binding couples as well as cementing the relationship between families.

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