Dowry: Definition, History & Myths


Dowry and the Law

Dowry and the Law

Dowry and the law intersect in many countries, where legislation aims to prohibit or regulate this practice due to its harmful effects on gender equality and women’s rights.

The term “dowry” refers to the cash, precious metals, real estate, cars, and other valuables that the bride’s family gives the husband and his family in exchange for the groom marrying her. The Latin “dotarium” and the Anglo-Norman French “dowarie,” which eventually became the Middle English term “dowry,” gave rise to the word. It is similar to the late Middle English word “dower,” which refers to a widow’s portion of her late husband’s estate. A significant amount of the bride’s parents’ money is transferred to the groom’s family through the custom of paying a dowry, and this transfer occurs only because of marriage. As a result, getting married turns become an economic act or transaction involving the acquisition of riches.


The custom dates back thousands of years, and it is still widely used in African and South Asian nations such as Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka. In South Asian nations, the parents of the bride associate the cash and pricey goods with their son-in-law as “gifts” for selecting their daughter, associating dowry with feelings of gratitude, love, and affection.

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However, because of its patriarchal overtones, this conduct is labeled as a social evil. When the bride is mistreated and the groom and his family demand more dowry after accepting the money, this widely held notion becomes troublesome and incredibly oppressive. Because of this, the dowry system has been transformed into a cultural crime—violence against individuals committed as a result of deeply ingrained cultural customs. Consequently, the practice is now illegal in nations like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India. However, the tradition is still upheld, disguising itself as a “gift” for the groom, and the violence persists, making the punitive actions unnecessary.

The history of dowry is complex and varies across cultures and time periods. Its origins can be traced back to ancient practices where gifts or payments were exchanged between families upon marriage. In some societies, dowry was a way to provide financial security for the bride in case of widowhood or divorce. However, over time, it evolved into a system where the groom’s family demanded increasingly large payments or gifts from the bride’s family, leading to financial burdens and even exploitation of women and their families. Today, dowry is illegal in many countries and efforts are ongoing to eliminate this practice and promote gender equality in marriage.


There are several myths associated with dowry. Here are a few:

1. Dowry ensures financial security for the bride

While this may have been the intention in some historical contexts, in many cases, dowry has become a financial burden for the bride’s family, leading to debt and impoverishment.

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2. Dowry is a cultural tradition

While dowry may have historical roots in certain cultural practices, it is not a universal tradition and varies greatly across different societies. Moreover, traditions should not justify harmful practices or exploitation.

3. Dowry is a voluntary gift

In many cases, dowry is not given voluntarily but is demanded by the groom’s family as a condition for marriage. This can lead to coercion, exploitation, and even violence against the bride and her family.

4. Dowry is a measure of the bride’s worth

Dowry is often used as a way to gauge the social status or wealth of the bride’s family, perpetuating harmful notions of commodifying women and reducing them to objects of exchange.

5. Dowry is a thing of the past

Despite legal prohibitions in many countries, dowry-related practices still persist in various forms, highlighting the need for continued efforts to address the root causes and promote gender equality in marriage.

Is Dowry Accepted Legally?

Dowry is illegal or heavily regulated in many countries around the world. Laws and regulations aimed at combating dowry-related practices vary by country, but the general trend is towards prohibiting or restricting dowry due to its association with gender-based violence, exploitation, and discrimination against women. However, despite legal measures, dowry-related practices may still persist in some societies due to cultural norms, economic factors, and enforcement challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dowry

1. What is dowry?

Dowry is a payment or transfer of wealth, typically from the bride’s family to the groom’s family, as part of marriage arrangements.

2. Is dowry illegal?

In many countries, dowry is illegal or regulated by laws aimed at preventing its abuse and exploitation. However, despite legal measures, dowry-related practices still exist in various forms.

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3. Why is dowry practiced?

Dowry practices vary across cultures and historical contexts. In some societies, dowry was originally intended to provide financial security for the bride or to symbolize the bride’s share of parental wealth. However, it has evolved into a system where the groom’s family demands payments or gifts, leading to exploitation and financial burdens on the bride’s family.

4. Who pays the dowry?

Traditionally, the bride’s family is expected to provide the dowry, although practices may vary in different cultures and societies.

5. What are the consequences of dowry?

Dowry can perpetuate gender inequality, reinforce harmful stereotypes, and lead to financial burdens, exploitation, and even violence against women and their families.

6. How can dowry-related issues be addressed?

Addressing dowry-related issues requires a multifaceted approach, including legal measures, education and awareness campaigns, economic empowerment of women, and changing societal attitudes towards gender roles and marriage.

7. Is dowry practiced in all cultures?

Dowry practices vary significantly across cultures and regions. While it is more commonly associated with certain cultures and regions, dowry-related practices exist to varying degrees in many societies around the world.

8. What is the difference between dowry and bride price?

Dowry involves payments or transfers of wealth from the bride’s family to the groom’s family, while bride price involves payments or gifts from the groom or his family to the bride’s family. Both practices can have harmful consequences and perpetuate gender inequality.

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