Everything you need to know about marriage in Burkina Faso

9 Jun 2023·23 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Burkina Faso 01

Over 40,000 marriages are performed every year in Burkina Faso, a west African country with 66 ethnic groups. The two major cultural groups in the country are the Mande and the Gur (Voltaic), and each culture has a unique way of performing marriages. There are different ways in which marriages are celebrated in Burkina Faso; however, there is only one type of marriage that is legally binding and recognized by law. Civil marriage is the only type of marriage recognized in the country. Other common types of marriages in the country are religious, traditional, or symbolic marriages, which do not hold legal grounds of their own. 

Spouses who perform either of these marriages are required to have performed a civil marriage first so as to ensure the legal validity of such a marriage. The minimum marriage age in the country is 20 years for male spouses and 17 years for female spouses. Any spouse who is under that age is required to obtain parental or guardian consent and a judge’s authorization before proceeding with marriage. Even though the set marriage age in the country is 18 or 20 years, child marriages are still very prevalent in the country. 

There are approximately 3 million child brides who got married off before the age of 18 in the country, and over 500,000 of these child brides were married before the age of 15. Burkina Faso has been declared a secular state, but religious and traditional ceremonial rites and laws govern most communities. The Constitution states that men and women are to be treated as equals in terms of rights, responsibilities, and duties, etc. However, Burkina Faso is also one of the countries with the highest degree of gender inequality in the world. Continue reading to discover more about marriages in Burkina Faso and their various rights and laws.

Civil marriage 

A civil marriage is the only type of marriage that is legally binding in Burkina Faso. Civil marriages are performed by authorized registrars or notaries in a civil office. This type of marriage is recognized in Burkina Faso and other foreign countries and is open to foreigners and Burkinabe nationals. The process of conducting a civil marriage in the country involved the submission of some documents and the meeting of some criteria. One of the most important factors now considered in civil marriages in the country is the age of marriage. As stated earlier, the minimum marriage age for male and female spouses in the country is different. 

The age of the male spouse is 20 years and older, while that of the female spouse is 17 years and older. Under special circumstances, the marriage age for both genders can be reduced by two years to 18 years for male spouses and 15 years for female spouses. Marriages below these ages are prohibited and cannot be performed in the civil office; however, it is not uncommon for spouses below these ages to get married in the country. Such spouses may not just perform a civil marriage, and there have been cases of 9-year-olds being married off in Burkina Faso. 

All couples have a legal obligation to register their marriage in the country because any marriage performed without the submission of all required documents and its registration in the registry book is void and invalid. The civil code of the country guides the act of marriage, including marriage ceremonies, annulments, and divorces. The registrar has a duty to ensure both parties getting married are entering the marriage as a result of their own free will and consent. In cases where it is discovered that a marriage was performed under threats, fraud, and coercion, such a marriage is rendered void and annulled. 

The marriage laws in the country require a foreigner getting married in the country to be eligible for marriage in their home country before proceeding with a ceremony in Burkina Faso. Civil marriages may be allowed in the consulate or embassy of Burkina Faso in a foreign country; however, it may involve the submission of additional paperwork by both spouses. The documents that must be submitted during the marriage application and registration process are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification. This includes a Burkinabe national ID card or a valid passport of a foreigner.
  • Government-used birth certificate. Both partners are required to submit this document, which must carry their names as they are addressed as well as those of their parents.
  • Two witnesses. They must be within the legal cavity to act as witnesses for the spouses and must be
  • Certificate of residence. This is often requested from foreign partners getting married in Burkina Faso; in some cases, the registrar may also request this paperwork from a Burkinabe.
  • Health Certificate. This is often referred to as a "certificate of premarital visit," and it must be issued by a certified physician. This document will show that both partners are in good health and are capable of conducting a marriage without facing any issues.

Marriage Certificate Details

  • First name, surname, age, occupation, place of birth, and residence of the husband
  • First name, surname, residence, and occupation of both parents
  • A declaration by both parties and their civil registrar confirming that they can be referred to as a married couple
  • Parental or guardian consent, if required.
  • A statement that the marriage contract has been issued with the name and residence of the clerk-notary
  • In cases where it applies, a declaration of the option of polygamy
  • Choice of matrimonial regime adopted

Religious and traditional marriages

Religious and traditional marriages are very common in Burkina Faso; however, they hold no legal grounds. Over 60% of the total population identify as Muslims, and over 26% are Christians. The rest of the people living in the country practice folk religion or animism, and some have no religious affiliation. 

Since the population of Muslims in the country is the highest, marriages are mostly performed in an Islamic setting. Most Muslim marriages usually involve simple ceremonies that are attended by family and close friends, called the Nikah ceremony. During the Nikah, a marriage contract is signed by both the bride and groom as well as the witnesses provided. The contract often contains the terms of marriage and the responsibilities of both spouses. 

After the marriage contract is signed, it is customary for the husband to present a gift to his wife. This gift is quite different from the bride price that must have been paid before the Nikah ceremony. Muslim marriage ceremonies usually last for only a few hours, and couples who want an extravagant party may then organize one later at a time or date of their choice, usually within one week of the nikah ceremony.
 

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Marriage traditions in Burkina Faso

Knocking Ceremony

This is a popular marriage tradition that is not only performed in Burkina Faso but also in other African countries. Here, a date is chosen by the groom and his family before the wedding date to go to the bride's house and knock on the door to present gifts to her. This is often done as a way of securing the total consent of the bride.

Traditional foods and drinks

Traditional wedding ceremonies in Burkina Faso often involve a lot of eating and drinking. Younger cousins often give drinks to the couple, and the wife is expected to taste the drink first before offering it to her husband. These traditions are still common in rural communities.

Mahr 

In Muslim marriages, the husband has a duty and responsibility to provide his wife with money. This can also be presented as other gift items and is for the purpose of ensuring the wife has property of her own before entering the marriage.

Same-sex marriages 

In Burkina Faso, marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman; marriage between two people of the same sex is illegal. Same-sex sexual acts are legal and accepted in the country; however, they may still face certain legal difficulties that are not experienced by opposite-sex couples.

Polygamous Marriages

Polygamy is legal and widely practiced in Burkina Faso. A man is allowed to marry multiple wives, and the country has one of the highest rates of polygamy in Africa and the whole world at large. About 36% of marriages in the country are polygamous.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

In Burkina Faso, the laws that regulate the act and process of contracting marriage are known as the Burkinabé family code. This implies that the only legally recognized form of marriage in the country is civil marriage; however, the practice of other forms of marriage, such as religious and traditional marriages, is widespread in the country, and as a result, the laws of marriage are not often respected. The majority of marriages in Burkina Faso are either contracted traditionally or religiously, even though they have no legal value. The legal age for marriage in Burkina Faso is fixed at 17 years for girls and 20 years for boys. Minors who wish to enter into marriage are allowed to do so under grave circumstances, and they must be at least 18 years old for boys and 15 years old for girls. 

A tribunal has to decide whether or not the marriage is allowed to take place. Despite this inequality in the age of marriage, many girls are married off before they reach the age of 17. Muslim religious marriages allow girls as young as 12 years to enter into marriage, and traditional marriages allow the marriage of girls as young as 10 years, which implies that the rate of child and forced marriages in the country is very high, as the penalties for this act are not often enforced and offenders often get away with it. Citizens who have reached the legal age of marriage must give their voluntary and willing consent to marriage; the use of force or violence to obtain consent from both parties is prohibited and punishable under the law by at least 2 months to 2 years imprisonment. 

Minors who wish to enter into marriage must give their consent and receive the consent of their parents before marriage can take place. In the event that a minor is victimized and forced to enter into marriage, a punishment of at least 3 years in prison is given to the offender. On the topic of consent, only marriages contracted civilly respect the concept of consent. Traditional marriages and religious marriages, specifically Muslim marriages, do not always respect the consent of the husband and wife. Traditional marriage practices such as levirate and sororate marriages, where the bride or husband of a deceased husband or wife is forced to marry the brother of her husband or the sister of his wife, Under Muslim religious marriages, the consent of the bride is often disregarded; her legal guardian, commonly referred to as the wali, has the sole power to give consent on her behalf, as her silence is believed to be her consent to marriage. 

Sexual activities between same-sex couples are allowed in the country, but same-sex marriages are illegal. Despite the legality of same-sex activities in the country, a lot of discrimination, violence, and restriction is experienced by same-sex couples in the country. Polygamy is not legally recognized under the laws of marriage in the country, but since many marriages are religious or traditional, polygamy is commonly practiced and men are allowed to marry as many wives as they can. 

Marriage between foreigners is allowed in Burkina Faso; they must be able to provide all necessary and valid documents for verification, after which a notice would be published at the office of the registrar for at least 30 days before marriage can take place. There must not be any legal impediment to marriage from both parties; a certificate of no impediment to marriage must be submitted alongside all documentation to the civil registry.

Rights

There is a high degree of inequality between the rights of men and women in Burkina Faso generally and in marriage. The law states that both married and unmarried men and women have equal rights under the law; however, due to the prevalent traditional and religious practices and the lack of enforcement on the part of the law, equality is not practiced. Under the law, once marriage is contracted, the wife has the same right as the husband to be recognized as the head of the home. However, under traditional and religious practices, this right is often ignored by many households as the husband is believed to be the head of the home and the woman is expected to be subject to him. 

They both have the right to be recognized as the legal guardians of the children, and the wife has the same right as her husband to be entrusted with the safety, health, and proper development of the children. Not only do they both have the right to perform their roles as legal guardians, they are also entitled to exercise parental authority when necessary. If it is perceived that the marriage is no longer working, the wife as well as the husband have the right to file for divorce, either mutually or on justifiable grounds such as violence and abuse, neglect, lack of consent, fraud, etc. And after the divorce has been finalized, they both have the right to receive custody of the children; the parent who best represents the interests of the children would be granted custody.

Other rights, such as visitation rights, are available to both couples in the event of divorce. Divorced or widowed women do not have the right to enter into marriage immediately after their previous marriage has been annulled; a waiting period of 300 days must be observed before they can enter into another marriage contract. However, because the husband is thought to be superior, any divorce decided upon by the customary court is often not in the woman's favor; thus, the divorce can be settled as a family issue, and the woman is forced to live with her husband or she forfeits her right to custody of the children. 

According to the civil code, both the husband and the wife have equal inheritance rights. At the demise of either of the spouses, the surviving spouse has the right to receive the property, both land and non-land assets, of the deceased spouse, but this right is not recognized under customary laws, as many women who are married under religious and customary laws are unaware of this right, and the families of their husbands often take total control of all properties.

Costs

Marriage in Burkina Faso is considered to be a big deal, as these celebrations go on for many days and the husband and his family are expected to shoulder the cost of this event. While contracting a civil marriage, many couples are required to pay a certain fee, which is often not expensive. It is the traditional and religious wedding that eats into the couple's pockets. 

It can cost anywhere between 300,000 and 1,800,000 XOF, depending on the financial ability of the couple if they decide to shoulder the cost of the ceremony together. Many couples often wear the traditional attire, often referred to as "Faso Dan Fani" attire. It is a traditional Burkinabe attire that is specially woven for couples. The cost of this attire varies, but it is commonly priced at least 50,000 XOF. The average cost of an accommodation at a reputable hotel in the country is at least 19,170 XOF, which is approximately $31. 

Couples who wish to shoulder the cost of the guests' accommodations should expect to spend a lot of money. The cost of food and drinks at the ceremony also consumes a significant portion of the wedding budget, as these ceremonies can last up to a week and feature different foods and drinks on each day of the celebration. In general, the major expenses include transportation, catering, decoration, and photography. It is up to the couple to decide how lavish or big they want their ceremony to be.

Duties

There is a general belief that women are subordinate to men and that the majority of duties in the home fall on her shoulders. In rural areas, the woman is tasked with the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, taking care of the home and the children, and also working on the farm. She is expected to obey her husband at all times and respect his decisions, whether they are in her interest or not. 

She has a duty to satisfy her husband at all times; she must not disobey or refuse to serve her husband as she might be subjected to beatings and punishment. She must respect and take care of her husband's family, and she must also ensure that no disrespect or dishonor comes to the family through her. The husband is expected to be the provider of the family; he has the sole responsibility to provide for the material and physical needs of the household, and he must be able to provide basic amenities such as food, clothing, and shelter. 

They are both obligated to make decisions that influence the health and comfort of the family, such as the family's residence and the moral and political inclinations of the household. However, many traditional practices restrict the wife from participating in important family decisions, as she is often reminded of her place in the home as the primary caregiver.

Conclusion   

Burkina Faso has various ethnicities, and traditional customs and laws have a high level of importance in the country. Even though the country is recognized as a secular state, religions and traditions have a high level of impact on the act of marriage.

Some of the most popular wedding destinations in the county include Hotel Siguin-Vésu, Espace Kikoo, and Dunia Hotel. There are known cases of people marrying their close relatives, and in some rural communities, it is seen as a way of preserving the family heritage and bond. This article is a complete guide to everything you need to know about marriage in Burkina Faso.

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