Why kissing is prohibited but polygamy and cohabiting is allowed in Uganda.

A country where cohabiting is a common form of marriage even if it lacks legal recognition.

With over 50 different tribes, Uganda is a country with a diversified cultural practice. The tribes are famous for happy and highly hospitable people. This gives Uganda a unique cultural practice making the country a top tourist destination in the world, according to the CNN 2023 Tourism report.

The country however has an amazing marriage practice that has left many tourists in awe. 

Why it matters: Countries all over the world have different cultural practices. Knowing what is allowed and what’s not allowed in your destination country is very important. It will protect you from doing uncommon things which may make you lose respect.

Things you must know;

1. Sex with a person below 18 years is illegal.

2. Cohabitating is a recognized form of marriage.

3. Adultery, or having an affair with a married person to be particular, is not a crime.

4. Selling sex acts or hiring out a house for commercial sex.

5. Unnatural sexual offences like; Homosexuality, having sex with dead bodies and having sex with birds or animals.

6. Rape or attempting to have sex with a person by force.

You are allowed to marry over 10 women in Uganda by either opting for customary marriage or cohabitation.

The big picture: Uganda is a patriarchal community with a number of cultural practices favouring men.

The country has a strict legal framework that aims at protecting it’s young generation from engaging in sexual acts before the age of 18 which in Uganda, is the age of consent. Both the country’s legal system and cultural settings attempt to hide adult content from the eye of the child. Anyone who shows it to the child is therefore punishment.

For instance, kissing in public and dressing in attires that make public what is regarded as private parts can be punished. Tourists are however exempted from the dressing restrictions but may not be welcomed especially in rural communities if they show up with almost nothing on.

Besides Uganda’s strict legal system, if someone makes 18 years, the legal system tends to relax and in most cases goes silent on how the community can handle their adult behaviours.

For instance, once the minor becomes an adult, he is free to ‘elope’ with someone’s daughter (if she is also an adult) and go unpunished. In fact, you are even allowed to marry someone’s wife and go scot-free.

Cohabiting which is a common form of marriage is not a recognized legal marriage but it’s not illegal.

The primary form of marriage in Uganda is customary marriage. This is a form of marriage where the couples meet the girl’s parents and pay dowry. Once dowry is paid, the marriage is considered complete. Couples are however expected to register their marriages with the town hall in order to complete the process.

Other optional forms of marriages include; church marriages, Hindu marriages, Islamic marriages and state marriages. 

Customary marriage is polygamous in nature although women are not allowed to have more than one husband.

Suggested Reading:

How to Marry in Busoga, a land of submissive women in Uganda.

What to do in Entebbe: Discover 13 things that attracts people t this amazing city

Kigezi Region: Amazing facts that attracts tourists to this western region of Uganda.

What causes cohabiting in Uganda?

The misunderstanding of customary marriage by the people of Uganda is believed to have been the cause of the increasing rates of cohabiting in Uganda. 

As parents continued to deny the hands of their daughters into marriage with boys parents considered unqualified, children decided to elope. This set an example to other girls given the fact that the eloping couples were not punished.  

The practice continued growing until when it became a new normal. Today over 90% of couples in Uganda are cohabitating whereby some people have stayed together for over 40 years and still having no plans of legalizing it. 

Weekend marriages are also becoming a common practice. A number of couples are married from Friday evening to Monday morning. There is even a common saying that, “The wife eats from her parents and sleeps and her husband’s”

Photo: Pam Ward during her wedding in Uganda with her Ugandan husband

Cultural Taboos:

Although you are allowed to marry any number of women in Uganda, you are not allowed to get near your mother-in-law if you are a man and if you are a woman, your father-in-law is a no go area. When you have to talk, the two of you must maintain a sizable distance. You should avoid eye contacts at all times.

Handshakes and hugging are never heard of. There’s a belief that getting body contact with your father-in-law or mother-in-law will make you get a Parkinson disease.

But this is only in the central and Eastern Uganda. Tribes in Western Uganda will feel comfortable and respected if hugged and no Parkinsonism has ever been reported in the region due to close contacts with the in-laws.

Photo Credit: Pam Ward (My Big Fat Ugandan Wedding)

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