Everything you need to know about marriage in Cameroon

10 May 2023·20 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Cameroon 01

Thousands of marriages are performed every year in Cameroon, a Central African country on the Gulf of Guinea. Cameroon is a destination wedding spot for foreign Africans from other countries because there are various natural attractions and beautiful beaches perfect for hosting wedding ceremonies. There are three major types of marriages practiced in the country that are recognized and protected by law. These are civil, religious, and customary marriages. Unlike in most other countries where religious and traditional marriages are mixed together, they are celebrated as two different independent ceremonies in Cameroon. 

The majority of Cameroonians are Christians; therefore, Christian church marriages are the most common type of marriage in the country. Marriage is legal at the age of 18. In the past, 18 years were set for boys while 15 years were put in place for girls; this has changed over the years. The minimum age of 18 years must be reached by Cameroonian and foreign spouses, with exceptions only in cases where parental or guardian consent is provided. The civil status of spouses is not a necessary requirement for marriages in the country. This is because both monogamous and polygamous marriages are recognized and protected under the country's laws. 

A man who was previously married is allowed to enter another marriage legally and enjoy all the rights and benefits of marriage. Although there are no legal restrictions on the number of spouses, most polygamists only marry between two and four wives. The rest of the article will help you understand the marriage traditions as well as the laws and rights in Cameroon.

Civil marriage 

A civil marriage is legally binding in Cameroon. This type of marriage is officiated by an authorized registrar and conducted in the registry’s office. Civil marriages can be performed in the country by both foreign nationals and Cameroonians, and the marriage certificate obtained is recognized in other countries around the world. Citizens of the country who are temporarily abroad may be allowed to conduct their marriage at the Embassy of Cameroon in that country. Before spouses are allowed to marry each other, a public declaration of marriage must be made. The civil registry is usually in charge of issuing and drawing up these documents. 

The notice of marriage will be published and will last for a period of time during which the concerned authorities will verify that there are no obstructions to the marriage. Mental or health problems, as well as illnesses, are some of the most significant factors that can stymie marriages in the country. The legal marriage age must be reached by spouses marrying in the country, and marriage between two people who are related by a direct link or affinity is not allowed. The documents required to marry in Cameroon are listed below.

Documents Required 

  • Government-issued birth certificate. This paperwork must be submitted by both spouses, and it must include the names of the spouses as they are addressed, as well as their parents' names and dates of birth.
  • A valid means of identification, such as the national ID or a valid passport of the spouses.
  • Parental consent. Spouses who are under the age of 18 and are getting married in the country must submit written consent from their parents before the marriage is approved.
  • Proof of residency Most registry offices will require a foreign spouse to have been living in the country for a period of at least one month.
  • Divorce or marriage certificate. This is to be submitted by spouses who were in a previous marriage that got dissolved as a result of separation or the death of a former partner.

The major marriage requirements in the country have been stated above. The type of document required varies in different registries, and couples must go to the registry in the district or municipality where they reside to find out the exact documents that are needed. Documents that have been obtained from foreign countries or authorities must include an Apostille, which is an official stamp to show that the document is legit and certified. The primary official languages in the country are French and English, and all the documents must be translated by an authorized translator.

Religious marriage 

Religious marriages in Cameroon are also recognized by the country’s laws. The major religion in Cameroon is Christianity. About 70% of the people living in the country are Christians, 20% are Muslims, and the remaining 10% include people of other religions and irreligious people. Religious marriages are quite popular in Cameron, and they are practiced according to the beliefs of the couple's religious faith or association. Contrary to popular belief, interfaith marriages are also performed. The marriage procedures and conditions for Muslims are quite different from those of Christians. For Christians, marriages are performed in the church and officiated by a clergyman such as a priest or pastor. 

The Roman Catholic Church is the biggest denomination in the country, followed by Protestants. Catholic Church marriages are usually conducted in the morning so as to give room for a wedding reception later in the day. To get married in a Catholic church, both spouses must be baptized Christians. The marriage between a Christian of another denomination and a Catholic may be held under the condition that the children that they give birth to will be baptized in the Catholic Church. Catholic churches often have premarital classes that must be attended by spouses before they are allowed to marry. These classes are mostly mandatory and last a few weeks before the wedding. It is advisable for spouses to make the church aware of their marriage about 6 months prior to the wedding ceremony so that all necessary preparations are in place.

Customary marriage 

Customary or traditional marriages are still celebrated by Cameroonians, especially those in rural regions and communities. Traditional marriages usually begin with a process called "door knocking." This is the engagement ceremony where both families will get to meet each other. Traditionally, marriage is not just a union between couples. When a man and a woman get married, the two families are also united. Traditional Cameroonian marriages are usually lavish celebrations, and the ceremonial rites performed depend on the region as well as the ethnic group where the couples are from.

Everything you need to know about marriage in Cameroon 02

Marriage traditions in Cameroon

Knocking the door

This is a ceremonial rite performed in Cameroon where the groom goes to the bride's house with his family to officially make a marriage proposal and ask for her hand in marriage. It is customary for the groom to go with various gift items and present them to the bride's family when the marriage proposal is accepted. During the meeting, the parents of the bride may ask some questions of the groom, which he has to think about carefully before answering. These questions are generally about the marriage and the future of the spouses.

The Dot 

This is a Cameroonian marriage tradition that is performed by the groom and the bride's family. The man shows that he is serious and ready to get married by performing "the dot," which is the payment of the bride price as well as the purchase of all the items included in it. The items on the bride's list are drawn up by the bride's family, and they must take the groom into consideration by asking for items he will be able to afford.

Wedding ceremony 

The actual wedding ceremony involved a lot of food, drinks, and music. The traditional Cameroonian outfit is worn by the couple during the traditional wedding ceremony, and there are different people that are included in the wedding party with various tasks and responsibilities. It is customary for the groom to have a spokesman or best man who will make a toast and also make some necessary provisions as requested by the couple. During the ceremony, the couples receive gift items from the guests as well as prayers and good wishes.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws 

According to the civil code of marriage in Cameroon, marriage is a legally recognized and socially accepted partnership, typically involving a man and a woman, that is governed by laws, norms, conventions, and religious beliefs. Monogamy and polygamy are recognized forms of marriage, under which anyone can get married. Marriage between one woman and more than one man, known as polyandry, is illegal in the country; only men are allowed to practice polygamy. Civil marriages only recognize the practice of monogamy, while customary marriages, on the other hand, allow the practice of polygamy. The law recognizes religious marriages, civil marriages, and customary marriages. 

Civil marriages must be conducted in the presence of a civil officer to be valid, while customary marriages are considered valid after the bride price has been paid and a civil officer registers the marriage. The minimum age for marriage is 15 years for girls with parental consent and 18 years for boys. Persons who have not attained the legal age for marriage and wish to get married can do so provided they receive the president's permission. Consent to marriage is very important in Cameroon. Couples must consent to marriage before it can be declared valid, but the consent of parents is even more important than the consent of the couple. Under the law, the consent of the couple is totally dependent on that of the parents. 

Co-habitation does not confer the status of husband and wife on couples; no matter how long they've lived together or how many children they have together, couples have to be officially married to be recognized as husband and wife. Marriage by proxy is not allowed in Cameroon; both parties have to be present throughout the process of contracting marriage. Under circumstances where the physical presence of the husband is threatened, he may be allowed to be absent and send a representative to give consent on his behalf. Homosexual activity is not illegal in the country; however, homosexual marriages are illegal and can lead to imprisonment for up to five years. Marriage must be registered at the civil registry of the municipality of one of the spouses, and valid documentation such as identity documents, birth certificates, and so on, must be submitted and verified by the civil registrar before marriage is considered legal. 

Both parties must be single at the time of marriage. Once a monogamous marriage is entered into, one of the parties who wishes to enter into a new marriage must get a divorce before doing so, or else the second marriage would be deemed illegal. a proof of the nonexistence of the first marriage, such as a certificate of divorce or, in the event of widowhood, a certificate of death of the deceased spouse. Forced marriages are considered an offense under the law, and persons who allow such marriages to be contracted are liable to a jail term of up to 10 years in prison and a monetary fine.

Rights

The Cameroonian laws make provision for the equality of rights of couples in marriage, but the society is plagued with inequality as wives are seen as subordinate to their husbands. The husband and wife have the right to decide what marital property regime they wish to contract under marriage; it would determine their property rights and how they would be split in the event of separation. Many wives who contract customary marriages are often not allowed to exercise this right. 

The couple has the right to decide whether they want children or not. Both parties have the right to give birth or adopt children without any discrimination or limitations, provided they are capable. The husband has the right to decide whether or not his wife can work; he has the final say in the home; and he possesses the unilateral right to decide on matters that affect the welfare of the family. According to the law, men have the right to marry more than one wife under polygamy, whereas women do not possess this right. Only the husband is allowed to assume the role of the legal guardian of the children and exercise parental rights. 

When it comes to the breakdown of marriage, the couple has the right to initiate divorce, either based on mutual consent or based on specific reasons such as desertion, domestic violence, and abuse. In the event of widowhood, the widower or widow has the right to contract marriage. The couple has the right to exercise their conjugal rights in the home; they are not allowed to deprive one another of this right except under special circumstances. The couple has the right to inherit, but a number of women are restricted from exercising this right.

Costs

Marriage is one of the most important events in the life of a person, anywhere in the world; however, the cost of getting married in various countries differs from one another. In Cameroon, the cost of getting married starts with the bride price. The practice of paying the bride price is still very much in existence in Cameroon, and this is paid by the groom to the bride's family. According to the customs and traditions in Cameroon, the bride's family is responsible for the majority of the cost of the celebration; however, modern couples tend to shoulder this cost themselves. 

Luxury and extravagant weddings have become a trend in Cameroon, and many couples go out of their way to host one so as to be regarded as wealthy or influential. An average wedding in Cameroon costs around 6 million francs, which is approximately 9,200 euros, with at least 200–300 guests in attendance. Young couples see a wedding ceremony as an opportunity to outdo themselves; many often borrow money to be able to meet up with societal standards and often have to pay off these debts for years after the ceremony.

Duties

In an average Cameroonian home, duties and responsibilities are equally shared among couples. The husband and wife have a duty to respect, support, and ensure the proper maintenance of the home. The duty of couples is first to their children. Both parties are tasked with the responsibility of providing for the children's needs. The husband is regarded as the head of the home; therefore, he is responsible for the maintenance of his wife and children; he is seen as the sole provider in the home. The woman is only allowed to contribute to the welfare of the family if she is permitted to work and has the means to do so. 

The husband is obligated to respect and provide protection for his wife and the family and ensure that no form of disrespect comes to the family name. The wife, on the other hand, has a duty to obey and make herself available to her husband at all times; she is tasked with the proper management of the household and is the primary caregiver of the children and her husband. She is expected to respect her husband's family members, even if she does not like them.

In Summary

Cameroon has interesting marriage traditions, and marriages are very important events in the lives of Cameroonians. The marriage laws in the country allow citizens and foreigners to conduct their marriage ceremony the way they deem fit without having to worry about the legalities of the marriage in Cameroon or other countries abroad.
Marriage between two people of the same sex is illegal in the country, and same-sex sexual activities or status are not allowed. Same-sex couples in the country face discrimination and legal consequences of up to five years' imprisonment. Also, polygamy is widely accepted and recognized in the country. A man is allowed to take as many wives as he pleases, provided that he treats them equally. However, polygamous marriages are not as common as they used to be in the country. This article is a complete guide to everything you need to know about marriages in Cameroon.

 

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