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In societies where payment of dowry is common, unmarried women are seen to attract stigma and tarnish the family reputation, so it is in the bride's family's interest to marry off their daughter as soon as she is eligible. In some areas where this is practised, the size of the necessary dowry is directly proportional to the groom's social status, thus making it virtually impossible for lower class women to marry into upper class families. In some cases where a woman's family is too poor to afford any dowry whatsoever, she is either forbidden from ever marrying, or at most becomes a concubine to a richer man who can afford to support a large household. Dowries have been part of civil law in almost all countries, Europe included. Dowries were important components of Roman marriages.
 Dowry in India
The Dowry system, which was non-existent in India before the eighteenth century, can be attributed to the coming of the colonial and imperialist British with their land ownership rights and the associated revenues. Prior to the British instituted system, no single person held land ownership - in fact the village as a whole owned the land - so no give or take could be possible during weddings. Once individual and fractious land ownership was forcibly introduced by the British, it became possible for land to be traded and offered as gift or transferred. Prior to the British Dowry system, the only wealth given during weddings was the jewelry/ornaments passed from mother to daughter as has been happening since generations. Even now this tradition continues, but has been subsumed by the larger British Dowry system.
Interestingly, the system of dowry does not exist in the most English of Britain's former colonies - namely, Canada, Australia, and the United States. This suggests that the India dowry system probably has at least some roots in indigenous Indian culture.
In India, the practice is still very common, in arranged marriages and in rural areas as it is widely recognized as a Traditional Ritual of Marriage. Demanding dowry is prohibited by law as of 1961 but these laws are highly misused arresting mothers and sisters without investigation. Search Google for the phrase "IPC 498a". Some families refuse to take part in this ritual due to the above law.
The practice of the bride giving a dowry to the groom is said to have originated in the system of streedhan (woman's share of parental wealth given to her at marriage). As women could not inherit property, streedhan was seen as a way for the family to secure some of its wealth for its daughter. It was also a recognition that not only the husband was responsible for providing for his wife, but her father shared this responsibility. It is not clear when the practice began in India. In the recent times, as women have better economic opportunities, this tradition no longer holds valid. Yet, it is still practiced in India. While the burden is removed from a woman's father and brothers, it still remains with the husband.
What began as gifts of land to a woman as her inheritance and sharing of the economic burden of protector and provider role between the two families in an essentially agricultural economy, today has degenerated into gifts of gold, clothes, consumer durables, and large sums of money, which has impoverished or heavily indebted poor families. The dowry is often used by the receiving family for business purposes, family members' education, or given to the husband's sisters again mostly as dowry in their marriage. Sometimes the transaction often does not end with the wedding, as the family is expected to continue giving.
 Dowry In Europe
Dowry was widely practiced in Europe, being found from classical Greece to Victorian England. It was regarded as contribution of her family to the married household's expenses.
With the advent of Christianity and religious orders, women also brought their dowries with them when they became nuns.
Failure to provide a customary, or agreed-upon, dowry could call off a marriage. William Shakespeare made use of this in Measure for Measure: Claudio and Juliet's premarital sex was brought about by their families' wrangling over dowry after the betrothal, and Angelo's motive for forswearing his betrothal with Mariana is the loss of her dowry at sea.
Customs varied widely, but some were widespread. Normally the bride would be entitled to her dowry in event of her widowhood, prior to the evolution of her dower rights; so common was this that the terms "dowry" and "dower" are sometimes confused. In event that the couple were childless, the dowry normally reverted to the bride's family; sometimes the groom could retain possession of it through his lifetime, or until he remarried.
One common penalty for the kidnapping and rape of unmarried women was that the abductor or rapist had to provide the woman's dowry.
Providing dowries for poor women was regarded as a form of charity, especially as such dowries could enable them to marry, when their only alternative would be prostitution. The custom of Christmas stockings springs from a legend of St. Nicholas, in which he threw gold in the stockings of three poor sisters, thus providing for their dowries. St. Elizabeth of Portugal and St. Martin de Porres were particulary noted for providing such dowries, and the Archconfraternity of the Annunciation, a Roman charity dedicated to providing dowries, received the entire estate of Pope Urban VII.
 Dowry in China
The similarity between the dowry system in China and the dowry system in India is that it serves as a way for the family to secure some of its wealth for its daughters as women could not inherit property in the orthodox Confucian society of China. However, there are many important differences between the two and these include:
- Unlike the Indian dowry system which was brought in by the foreign colonialists and imperalists, the Chinese dowry system is indigenous and has lasted for thousands of years.
- Unlike the Indian dowry system in which the transaction seldom end with the wedding, the Chinese dowry system is often an one-shot deal that ends with the wedding.
- Ancient China (as well as modern China to a certain degree) is a patriarchal society dominated by the orthodox Confucian traditions, in which it is a great shame for a man who cannot provide for his wife and thus has to survive on his wife's assets, such as her income or her dowry. As a result, the dowry is often served as a private savings of the wife and the groom and his family have far less power in controlling and using the assets like the Indian groom and his family. Although the Chinese wife might have greater automony than her Indian counterpart, the orthodox Confucian tradition dictates that the dowry assets should be used in the following order to support her husband when the assets of husband is not enough:
- For the eldest son's education when his livelihood can be provided but not enough for his education
- For the remaining sons' education when their livelihood can be provided but not enough for their education
- For the livelihood of the eldest son when there is not enough to do so
- For the livelihood of the remaining sons when there is not enough to do so
- For the livelihood of daughters until they marry
- For the livelihood of the parents
- For the education of the groom's brothers when there is enough for their livelihood but not enough for their education (often until the brothers marry)
- For the education of daughters
 See also
 External links
- Misuse of dowry laws
- Anti-dowry laws in India
- mothers and sister suffer due to dowry law misuse de:Mitgift