Everything you need to know about marriage in Botswana

12 Jun 2023·23 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Botswana 01

Botswana is a southern African country famous for its national park areas and wildlife. The country is a popular destination for tourists in Africa, and thousands of marriages are performed by Batswana nationals, foreign visitors, and tourists. There are two types of marriages performed in Botswana: customary and common-law marriages. They are both legally binding in the country, although common-law marriages are referred to as marriages under the act and generally hold more legal grounds and recognition across the country and the rest of the world.

Customary marriages are performed according to the customs and traditions of a spouse as well as their religious beliefs. These types of marriages are popular in the country and are conducted in the customary court, whereas common-law marriages are performed in a similar way to typical civil marriages. Even though customary marriages are popular, most Batswana people prefer common-law marriages, mainly because of their flexibility and the marriage benefits they offer. The legal marriage age in Botswana is 21 years, and this applies to both male and female spouses. 

Before any person (Botswana national or foreigner) is allowed to perform a marriage in the country, he or she must have attained the age of 21 and given their free consent to marry. Under special conditions and circumstances, a person aged 18 may be allowed to get married in the country, but they must be able to provide valid reasons for this. Botswana is generally regarded as one of the best countries in Africa to live in, and the rate of child marriages in the country is quite low. The country enforces the legal marriage age and ensures all marriages are performed under the customary law and act of marriage. Continue reading to find out more about marriage in Botswana.

Customary Marriages 

In Botswana, customary marriages are recognized and protected by law. These types of marriages are performed based on the principles of the region or community of the couple as well as their religious associations. The predominant religion in the country is Christianity. Some of the other religions are Muslim, Badimo, and others. Botswana has no official state religion, and although the majority of people in the country identify as Christians, the country remains a secular state and allows the freedom of religion. 

When spouses want to conduct a customary marriage, they must first submit an application to the Registrar of Marriages, Civil, and National Registration Regional Offices within a two-month period of performing such a marriage. One of the spouses is required to apply for the registration of their marriage with the registrar of marriages, and they are required to provide all the necessary information with regard to the application. There are also several supporting documents that must be provided by spouses before they are allowed to perform a marriage. These documents are stated further below in this article. After all the required documents are submitted, the registrar may go through them to check their validity and ensure every detail is accurate and all the forms are filled correctly. 

Upon the satisfaction of the registrar, they proceed to confirm that the spouses have already concluded a customary marriage and register the marriage. The marriage registration is carried out by recording the identities of both partners, the date of the marriage, and the property or substantial gift item that the prospective spouse, often a groom, is required to give to the bride's family for their consideration and final acceptance of his marriage proposal. After this is completed, the registrar of marriage registers the marriage and issues the certificate of registration with the information of both spouses. 

The bride and groom are required to obtain the marriage certificate, after which they are now regarded as an official legal couple and may be referred to as husband and wife. If the registrar is not satisfied due to one or more reasons, like a falsely performed customary marriage or false information in the submitted documents, he or she may choose to decline and not register the marriage. In Botswana, both spouses are required to have reached the age of 21 before getting married. The country has one of the highest minimum legal marriage ages in Africa, and this is one of the reasons why the rate of forced and child marriages is quite low. 

With the provision of parental consent, a person between the ages of 18 and 21 may be allowed to marry; however, a person below the age of 18 cannot perform a marriage under any parental consent or judicial authorization. The registration can only be performed by couples who have performed a previous customary marriage in their own region or religious group. The documents that are required to register a customary marriage in Botswana are listed below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification. Batswana may provide a national ID card, and foreigners may provide a valid passport.
  • A letter of confirmation that neither of the spouses is married. This can be obtained from Kgosi or the concerned authorities in a foreign spouse’s home country.
  • Letter of consent from both parents for spouses under the age of 21.

Common-law marriages

Common-law marriages are referred to as marriages under the Act, and they are legally binding in Botswana. These marriages are officiated by registered civil authorities, and the registration must be performed at the national registration office (OMANG). Common-law marriages are conducted by the office of the district commissioner, but in some cases, other registrars may be authorized to perform the ceremony. 

Registrars here may be ministers of religion, persons who hold important positions in religious bodies, and administrative officers. Other people besides the district commissioner are required to apply to the district commissioner to become marriage officers who can conduct legal marriages. They must have their appointments published in the government gazette. There are two major requirements and documents that must be provided in this type of marriage. These are stated below.

Notice of Intention to Marry

Spouses performing a common-law marriage are required to give notice that they intend to marry each other as a result of their free will and consent at the office of the local district commissioner or administrative officer. This must be performed at least three months before the scheduled date for the ceremony. The office of the district commission will then Display the names of the couple for three consecutive Sundays. Different religious bodies have their own ways of notifying the community about an oncoming marriage. In the Christian church, it is referred to as the "publication of banns." Most times, it lasts for two weeks.

Affidavit of marriageability

Before a marriage is conducted in Botswana, both spouses must be able to demonstrate that they are eligible for marriage and single at the time they are contracting the marriage. A spouse must have never been married or must have ended a previous marriage due to the death or separation of a previous spouse. Foreign spouses getting married in the country are required to provide an affidavit of marriageability stating that they are single and eligible for marriage.

Everything you need to know about marriage in Botswana 02

Marriage traditions in Botswana

Go Laya

This is a unique marriage tradition in Botswana. Here, an elderly married woman from the bride's family will give the bride lessons and advice about everything marriage entails. Before the actual wedding ceremony, the bride will receive advice on what she can expect as a wife to her husband and as a mother to her child(ren).

Lebola 

This refers to the bride price that is paid by the groom's family. After a groom makes his intentions known to the bride's family and asks for her hand in marriage, he is presented with a lobola, which must be paid in full before the ceremony. In most cases, the bride price is livestock.

Traditional Attires

Botswana marriages may involve different ceremonies, ceremonies and the husband and wife are expected to wear various beautiful outfits across all the ceremonies. The traditional dress of women include  skirt, blouse, shawl, and a head tie or ornamented scarf.


Same-sex marriages 

Botswana does not recognize relationships or marriages between people of the same gender. A male or female may be a homosexual; however, they are not allowed to head a family or marry another homosexual in the country. The marriage rights and benefits available to opposite-sex couples are not shared by same-sex couples in Botswana.

Polygamous marriages 

Marriage in Botswana is regarded as the union between a man and a woman. Polygamous marriages involving multiple people are not recognized or protected under the laws of the country. There are still some communities where polygamy is practiced; however, this type of marriage is generally not common in Botswana.

Everything you need to know about marriage in Botswana 03

Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

Botswana is one of the countries in Africa that has a plurilegal system, which comprises both common law and customary laws. Despite the differences in these laws, they both work together to ensure that marriage is done according to the rules and regulations of the country. According to the marriage act, which is the civil code that guides marriage in Botswana, the minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years for both male and female with parental permission, or, in the absence of parents, permission from a legal guardian or an administrative officer at the couple's municipal residence. 

Anyone who wishes to enter into marriage without parental consent must be at least 21 years old before contracting marriage. In Botswana, a marriage conducted customarily must have the approval of the local chief and be conducted at the "kgotla," which is the customary court. Civil marriages must be conducted by an authorized official of the law, and they must be registered at the Omang, which is the national registration office. While the law states that marriage can only be between a single man and a single woman and that there must be no existing marriages at the time of marriage registration, polygamous unions are still common in the country, though not widely practiced. 

The law allows a man to marry his first wife customarily (customary laws allow the practice of polygamy) and eventually marry his second wife under civil law, and since both forms of marriage are recognized, it is considered to be legal. Informal or de facto unions are not legally recognized by the law in Botswana, but they are commonly practiced by the citizens of the country. Men and women who wish to be partners but do not want to be officially married often practice de facto unions, but they do not have any legal value. Same-sex activities in Botswana have a legal status, but marriage between same-sex couples is prohibited by the law, homosexual couples are not allowed to adopt children, and despite the legal status of same-sex activities in the country, a lot of discrimination is thrown at same-sex couples because the society does not accept the concept. 

Consent to marriage is a very important marriage law in Botswana. It is required by law that both the husband and wife must be in good health and in a stable state of mind to be able to contract marriage, and as a result, they should be able to give free and full consent to marriage on their own volition and not based on interference from third parties. This implies that marriage must be contracted voluntarily and without the use of force, violence, or threats, as this act is prohibited and comes with penalties such as imprisonment, payment of fines, etc. 

Botswana recognizes interracial marriages and marriages between foreigners; however, the foreign spouse or spouses must be eligible for marriage in their home country before contracting marriage in Botswana, and there must be no legal impediment to marriage. Both citizens and foreigners are required to submit all valid documentation, such as identity documents, birth certificates, etc., required by the law, which must be verified by the appropriate authorities before marriage can take place.

Rights

The rights of marriage for couples who are married under customary laws differ from the rights of couples married under civil laws. Many couples live under customary laws, and women in particular often face problems when it comes to exercising their rights in the home. According to customs and traditions, the woman is believed to be inferior to her husband, and as a result, the husband often infringes on her rights in the home. Couples married under customary or religious laws also face this problem, but this concept has been cancelled by the abolition of marital power, and many common law practices have been repealed, but this abolition act has not done anything for customary marriages. 

Women now have the same right as men to be recognized as the head of the household; they are both entitled to make important family decisions that affect the health and well-being of the family. Women married under customary laws face a number of restrictions when trying to contract divorce; they are not entitled to the same rights available to men. Couples who are married under civil laws have the right to initiate divorce; the law requires the same thing from the husband and the wife in order to finalize divorce. Marriage grants both the husband and wife the right to have children, be the legal guardians of the children, and exercise parental authority when necessary, as well as the right to adopt children if they have the means to do so, in contrast to customary marriages in which the husband is believed to be the legal guardian of the children and the right to exercise parental authority is granted to the father, and only in certain circumstances can the wife exercise the right. 

They are both entitled to inheritance and property; couples married under civil laws have equal rights to own, use, and discard property as they wish; they are permitted to decide or change which marital property regime the marriage was contracted under. Under customary laws, the property of the husband and wife is jointly owned, and total control is given to the husband, which makes the wife totally dependent on him. The husband and wife have the right to work and earn meaningful payment for that work without facing any discrimination as a result of their marital status at the workplace. The wife has the same right as the husband to change, acquire, renounce, or confer their nationality on their children or foreign spouses.

Costs

Marriage in Botswana is expensive and considered to be a big deal as it represents the coming together of different families to form a union. Many couples have a combination of civil, customary, and religious marriages, but they often register their marriages as civil marriages in order to be able to enjoy the benefits available to couples married under the civil law. An average customary and religious wedding in Botswana costs around P150 000 to P300 000. This covers the cost of the ceremony for asking for the hand of the bride in marriage, known as "patlo;" the handing over of the bride, known as "magadi;" the handing over of the bride to the groom's family, known as "kgoroso;" and finally, the cost of the religious wedding and the official civil wedding ceremony, known as "molaodi."

 The total cost of a wedding in Botswana depends on what the couple hopes to achieve, the venue, and essentially how much they have to spend on the ceremony. The cost of hiring a wedding planner varies; an average wedding planner would charge around P11000 for a traditional or white wedding of at least 250 people; this quotation would cover the cost of a marquee, which is estimated to be around P1800; the cost of draping, which is estimated to be around P1500; another P2000 for a carpet for the entire venue; and P250 for the red carpet, which is just for the couple; it also covers the cost of plastic chairs and chair covers. 

As stated earlier, the cost of wedding planners varies from one to another; it also depends on how wealthy the couple and their families are. More wealthy families would hire a more expensive wedding planner, and he or she would charge at least P40,000 for a 300-guest wedding ceremony, which would cover every cost from the silverware to the decoration at the venue of the ceremony. An average wedding dress in Botswana costs around P4,500. The cake costs around P3000, and a whopping P13,500 for the rings for the husband and wife and the groom's suit.

Duties

Couples must understand and carry out their responsibilities as husband and wife to ensure the smooth operation and stability of the family, which is regarded as the backbone of society. One of the reasons that some marriages fail is a failure to carry out the respective roles and responsibilities. One of the duties of the wife in the home is to be the husband's companion; she has a duty to provide support and companionship for her husband at all times. She is also obligated to fulfill her conjugal duties and not deprive her husband of his rights. 

She is obligated to be the support system for the family, and even when she is not included in the decision-making process of the family, she is required to give good counsel to her husband to ensure that he makes the right decision to benefit the family as a whole. The husband is responsible for providing for the basic needs of the family; he is required to be the protector, provider, and father to the children in the home. They are both required to be committed and provide mutual support and assistance for each other in marriage.

Final Thoughts  

Getting married in Botswana is quite simple and straightforward. Foreign spouses and Batswana nationals have the freedom to perform either a customary or common-law marriage. The country does not allow marriages of spouses below the age of 18, and any marriage performed in opposition to the rule may result in legal consequences and the annulment of the union.

Botswana has various unique marriage traditions, and there are various ethnic groups in the country. Each group has its own unique way of celebrating weddings. There is a broad selection of beautiful locations to perform weddings in the country. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Botswana.

Related