Girls look more like high-priced commodities as bride price becomes increasingly a means of escaping a rapidly declining economy. When people are in the midst of poverty as we have been experiencing around the world for the past years, they will do anything to survive. Parents and brides nowadays demand absurd sums of money and other commodities from there in-laws.
It is not surprising that many parents see the bride-price as one way of making ends meet. The bride price, a cultural and religious practice, is now a social problem that needs to be seen from an economic point of view, that is, the girl child being used to generate income in a family. Most people are struggling to survive. Unemployment is out of control, inflation is high, and more than half of the world’s population is living below the poverty line.
In Africa, the visits between families to negotiate the bride price are traditional customs that are considered by many Africans to be central to African marriage and society. The negotiations themselves have been described as the crucial component of the practice since they provide the families of the bride and groom the opportunity to meet and forge important bonds.
Research suggests that the impact of bride price on brides can be particularly severe for adolescent girls, especially where parents have an urgent financial need. This often leads to early or forced marriages, dropping out of school, early pregnancy, and reproductive health complications. Our reporter went round to seek the voices of imams, religious leaders, women activists, men and women on this topic. Women interviewed listed some of the abuses they continued to endure due to bride price as insults, sexual abuse, betrayal, denial of their rights to own properties, being overworked and having to bear a large number of children.
Imams and religious leaders who spoke to our reporter highlighted the process of the practice and its significance. Bride price they said is an amount of money or property or wealth paid by the groom’s family to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to the groom. Items offered as bride prices include cash, livestock, land with a good heart.
“However with the advancement of technology, highly educated women, fashion, luxuriates, people of modern times have abused this concept as the bride price is today centered on cash, motor vehicles, clothes, jewelry etc”.
The bride price according to Imam Musa Bah belongs entirely to the bride, not to her parents, and it is hers to keep, invest, fritter away, or give away, just as she likes.
Muslim leaders said that if the husband later divorces the wife, he has to give her whatever remains of her bride price immediately but if she divorces him without children, though, she has to return the bride price too. This is however strongly seen by today’s activists as a violation of women’s rights.
They also noted that there is no certain bride price system in Islam, it is only a mutual agreement between bride and bridegroom with their families, said the imam.
A group of white khaftans with shorted trousers commonly called “marcass” men, sitting under a corrugated iron sheet roof in Bundung, The Gambia assembled and accused People who usually demand huge amounts of money as religion and cultural abuse. A woman they noted holds a very high status in the Islamic faith. According to them, she is honored and respected at all times, but many startling transgressions have crept into Islamic practice. “These transgressions have been caused by cultural influences that have no basis in Islam,” they remarked.
Most university students interviewed, said dowry had a link to abuse of women in marriages as some men regarded their wives as properties because they had paid for them as some parents took bride price as their income. The practice they noted should not be abolished, instead, communities must be enlightened on women’s rights.
“A young man can demonstrate to the girl’s parents his ability to care for her by his intelligence, diligence, and success in making the most of the opportunities he has had in life so far but not through wealth,” said Ichoma a Nigerian national selling cosmetic at the Serrekunda market. Such characters she said are true wealth which leads to happiness and successful marriage.
She said it becomes more difficult for a love-relationship to develop, which would make the marriage truly stable, and believes Selfish economic factors do not build genuine love and fidelity.
Some of the opponents of the practice were also asked for their opinions, and they pointed out that “it actually encourages divorce, infidelity, and polygamy, therefore that does substitutes for and thus replaces the proper Biblical basis for happy, stable marriage-love and the desire to honor God”.
Although bride price was a stabilizing factor in marriage in the past, but with the rapid increase of education and urbanization, it has made it only an obsolete, but actually a hindrance to modern marital happiness and stability.
These women also complained of some men’s tendency to reclaim the bride price when marriages are broken up, saying fear of this outcome would hence force women to cling to their marriages even when abused. Mariam Samba, Isatou Bojang, and Awa Gassama were also interviewed and they all denied that the bride price has any connection with the abuse of women. They said abusing women was a matter of an individual’s style and character.
They, therefore, want the practice maintained as a way of binding couples as well as tightening the relationship between families. Our reporter found that bride price is a very strongly rooted cultural practice with all participants largely supportive of its existence in the Gambia and the African region.
Most members of this women group viewed bride price as a form of protection for women within marriages by providing them respect, status, and acknowledgment within society. On the other hand, men could lose status and respect if they were not able to pay the bride price.
In The Gambia, unions among people of the Muslim and Christian faith usually follows certain traditional Islamic tradition which infuses ethnic customs and practices.