How can I deal with dowry conflicts

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In many countries (for example in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Kenya) the request, payment, or acceptance of any sum presented as a requirement for marriage is strictly forbidden by law with anyone guilty of breaking the law subject to a custodial sentence.

Unfortunately, many families are still not aware of the law and of the recourse available to wives and their families in the event that a wedding dowry is demanded. Others think that filing a complaint with the authorities would lead to the damage of their social status. So the tradition often lives on, although it should not.

Disputes about dowry issues are still frequent and often when parents-in-law do not get a dowry that meets their satisfaction, they result in the maltreatment of the daughter-in-law and can even lead to the husband threatening his young wife with desertion if she does not bring a big enough dowry from her parents.

If you are being ill-treated by your husband‘s family because of a dowry conflict the following strategies may assist you to defend yourself:

1. Try to contact a women‘s organization in your region (if available) to ask for information and help.

2. If this is not possible, try to talk to someone in authority you trust (e.g. a health worker or a religious leader of your community) or to other women you know about their experiences with dowry conflicts. Some of them may be able to support or advise you as you are certainly not the only one with this type of problem.

3. Try to find supportive neighbours and relatives who are willing to assist and support you. In many cases, just a small group of people willing to intervene on your behalf will be sufficient to let the in-laws know that their behaviour will not be tolerated.

4. Talk to your parents, brothers and other family relatives because you have the same right to support and help as any of your brothers. It is their duty, if necessary, to take you back into the family home to save you from abuse and/or violence. By seeking their help you are not making yourself a burden nor an object of charity because your parents and relatives must give priority to saving your life and to helping you rebuild a new life. Tell them if necessary that if they are not willing to take you back and make you feel welcome in their home, they would be as guilty of your misuse and, in the worst case, of your murder as your in-laws.

5. You may also consider legal action if you live in a country where dowry is forbidden and punishable by law. However, you should think carefully before going to the police or to court because in many countries where dowry is still practised, the legal system, unfortunately, is often inefficient and venal and all your effort might be in vain. So choose your battle wisely and, if possible, contact a women‘s organization before taking any action as they may help you to evaluate your chances of success.

No man has the right to put a price on a woman nor to accept or reject her hand in marriage according to the money and goods she brings. Every woman deserves to be treated as an individual with respect and dignity.

  • Burns, A. A., Niemann, S., Lovich, R., Maxwell, J., & Shapiro, K. (2014). Where women have no doctor: A health guide for women. Hesperian Foundation.
  • Audiopedia ID: en021016