Everything you need to know about marriage in Eritrea

8 Aug 2023·20 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Eritrea 01

Eritrea is a country in northeast Africa known for having some of the world's best colonial architecture. Every year, both foreigners and Eritreans perform marriages in the country. There are different ways to perform marriages in Eritrea. Couples may get married in a customary, civil, or religious marriage. These three marriages are recognized all over the country. Civil marriages performed in Eritrea gold legal grounds in the country and other parts of the world. Customary marriages are large events that involve many members of society. In Eritrean customary marriages, not just the two spouses get joined together. Their families will also have a say in how events unfold. 

In Eritrean families, raising a child and other family affairs are considered societal duties that most people have to participate in. In ancient times, most families used to marry within the same clan. Interethnic marriages were not very common in the country; however, things have changed over the years. Contemporary marriages are drifting away from the marriage rituals or ceremonial rites of traditional and customary weddings in the country. To get married in Eritrea, there are various processes that must be followed, especially in civil and customary marriages. With civil marriages, there are conditions that must be met by both spouses, as well as paperwork they are required to submit. 

Customary marriages involve several marriage rituals that must be performed by the couple as well as their family and friends. The minimum legal age for marriage in Eritrea is 18 years for both spouses; however, female spouses aged 16 may be allowed to perform a marriage in the country if they are pregnant or have already given birth to a child. Child marriages are prevalent in Eritrea, with 41 percent of all marriages being entered by spouses below the age of 18. Approximately 13% of all marriages are performed by spouses under the age of 15. As you read on, you will find out more about how marriages are performed in Eritrea.

Civil marriages 

In Eritrea, civil marriages are legally binding and recognized by law. This type of marriage is performed by an authorized registrar at the civil registry or registrar's office. To be legally married in Eritrea, couples are required to register their marriage with the government and have a civil ceremony performed by an authorized government official. Civil marriages are the only types of marriages that are legally binding in both Eritrea and other countries in the world. To begin the marriage application and registration process, couples must go to the nearest civil registry, preferably the one in the same district or municipality where they reside, to make a declaration of their intention to marry. 

The declaration must be made in person by both spouses. The couple will be provided with a marriage application form that must be filled out completely with the correct information for both partners. They are also required to sign the document, and after submission, the couple will have to provide certain documents. The marriage documents that must be provided during marriage registration are the same for most spouses; however, there may be some slight differences depending on the exact status of a spouse as well as their home country. All foreign spouses are required to provide a certificate of no impediment to marriage. This document is required to serve as evidence that such a spouse is single and eligible for marriage in Eritrea.

This may be regarded as a single status certificate. In some cases where a spouse is unable to obtain this document from their home country, they may provide a court-sworn affidavit that must have been performed in the presence of a lawyer or judge. All legal marriages must be consensual. Both partners must give their free will and consent to getting married, and they must both be over the age of 18. There are certain conditions that have been laid out, such as pregnancy or childbirth, which may allow a female spouse below the stipulated age to get married in the country. Foreign spouses must ensure that all documents obtained from their home country are legitimized with an apostille. In Eritrea, there are nine official languages, and documents provided must be in any of the main languages. 

Therefore, foreign spouses will be required to ensure their marriage documents are properly translated by an accredited translator. All the documents submitted by both foreign and Eritrean spouses must be certified copies. In some cases, there may be residency requirements for foreign spouses. It all depends on the civil registry where the marriage is being performed. After all the documents are submitted, the civil registrar will verify them to ensure all the information submitted is correct. The registrar may contact other concerned authorities in this process. Upon the confirmation of all documents, the marriage ceremony will be scheduled. After the marriage ceremony is completed, the couple will obtain a marriage certificate. The documents that must be submitted by spouses are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A national ID card or a valid passport
  • Certified copies of the birth certificates of both spouses
  • Two witnesses must be provided by both spouses.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Separated or widowed spouses must submit either of these documents as proof of the legal termination of the previous marriage.
  • A certificate of no impediment to marriage must be submitted by foreign spouses.

Religious and customary marriages

Religious and customary marriages are widely performed across Eritrea. Eritrea is mainly dominated by two religions, which are Christianity and Islam. The number of Christians in the country is about 55 percent, and most Eritreans belong to the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Religious and traditional marriages are governed by traditional and religious customs and laws instead of the state civil code. However, these types of marriages must not be performed in a way that directly opposes the civil codes of the country. 

Religious and customary marriages performed in Eritrea are recognized and protected under the laws of the country, but they are not recognized in all other countries. Religious marriages in Eritrea are typically performed by the religious leader of the couple's faith. In the case of Christianity, the marriage ceremony is performed by a priest or pastor, and in Islam, it is performed by an imam. Customary marriages usually involve a lot of ceremonies and rituals. In some regions, marriages are still being arranged between families. Generally, to perform both religious and customary marriages in Eritrea, both spouses need to obtain the consent of their respective parents.

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Marriage traditions in Eritrea

Dowry

Traditional marriages in Eritrea often include the payment of dowries by the groom's family. During the engagement ceremony, a dowry is paid by the groom's family to the bride's family. This dowry is often in the form of money, livestock, or other valuables. It is also seen as a means of appreciation for the bride's family.

Marriage Proposal

According to the traditional laws of marriage in Eritrea, when a couple is ready to marry, the groom must send his father and his immediate family members to the bride’s family to make an official marriage proposal. Here, the groom’s family may go with gift items that are presented to the family upon approval.

Wedding Feast

An Eritrean wedding ceremony is never complete without the wedding feast. After the bride and groom are officially joined together as husband and wife, there is usually a wedding feast that is organized where the families of the couple as well as various invited guests get to wine and dine together while singing and dancing to traditional music.

 Same-sex marriages

There is no recognition for same-sex unions, partnerships, or marriages in Eritrea. The status of homosexuality and same-sex sexual activities is illegal and may result in a penalty of up to three years' imprisonment. There are no discrimination protections based on gender identity or sexual orientation, and LGBT members face legal challenges that are not experienced by others.

Polygamous marriages 

Under the traditional and religious laws of Eritrea, polygamous marriages are allowed. A man is allowed to marry more than one wife; however, a woman is not allowed to be in a marriage with more than one man. To marry another wife in the country, the man is required to obtain the consent of his first wife, and the court also has the authority to restrict the right of the man to marry more than one wife. This may be done in situations where such marriage will be to the detriment of the wife or children in the family.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

The Eritrean transitional civil code of 1991 governs the act, procedures, and requirements of marriage in the country. The civil code not only recognizes civil marriage as legally binding but also recognizes religious marriages and customary marriages as having legal value. The legal age of marriage in Eritrea is set at 18 years for all forms of marital union except those contracted under Islamic laws. Under the civil laws of marriage, the groom and bride are required to be single at the time of marriage. They must either be unmarried, widowed, or divorced. A legally existing marriage must not exist at the time of contracting a new marriage agreement. The groom and bride must not be related in any way, either directly through blood or indirectly through marriage alliance or adoption. 

According to the definition of marriage, the groom and bride are prohibited from practicing polygamy. They are both not permitted to marry more than one partner at the same time. Marriage can only be allowed to take place after the consent of the couple has been obtained. The husband and wife must give their free and willing consent to marriage without any external influence; the couple must not be put under any form of duress or threat before they give their consent to marriage. The law does not allow the practice of forced marriages and prescribes appropriate punishment for anyone who conducts a forced marriage. If one of the couple was previously married but the marriage ended due to the death of one of the couple or divorce, the concerned spouse is required to submit a death certificate or a copy of the divorce decree to the appropriate authorities. 

Under the customary laws of marriage, the legal age for marriage starts at 15 years. The groom and bride are required by law to fulfill all the marriage customs and traditions peculiar to them or to one of the couple before marriage can take place. Under religious marriages, the laws of Islamic marriages, Christian marriages, and other religions differ from one another. The civil code does not define the laws of Islamic marriage, as the legal age for marriage starts once puberty is reached. Islamic marriages are governed by Sharia law, which not only defines the laws of marriage but also defines the rights, duties, and responsibilities of the couple in marriage. Christian marriage laws are mostly in sync with the civil code, but there are still a number of variations due to the different religious institutions in the country.

Rights

Couples in Eritrea are entitled to various rights by virtue of marriage. However, a number of limitations have been placed on the rights that couples can exercise due to various religious and customary beliefs. The husband and wife have the right to jointly decide on the matrimonial residence of the family. They both wield considerable power in the family's decision-making process. Couples have the right to be recognized as the heads of the home. 

The wife has the same right as the husband to be referred to as the head of the household and carry out the responsibilities peculiar to that position. Couples have parental rights over their children; some of the rights include the right to legal guardianship of the children and the right to exercise parental authority over the children when needed. These rights must not be abused or misused, and they cannot be renounced. The husband and wife have the right to be involved in any economic or financial activity without having to seek permission from one another. 

They also have the right to be involved in any political activity by exercising their political rights to vote and be voted for. The husband and wife are entitled to exercise their legal rights in marriage. They both have the right to a fair hearing and judgment, and they are entitled to initiate and finalize divorce. Spouses have the right to work and receive equal payment for their work and fair treatment at the workplace. The wife has the same right as the husband to confer their nationality on their children and their foreign spouses without any limitations.

Costs

Eritrean weddings are naturally expensive due to the long days of celebration; they often go for as long as three days, each day with its own expenses. Eritrean wedding expenses include renting a venue for the wedding reception, hiring cars for transportation, buying, sewing, or renting the attire of the couple, which is often a tuxedo for the groom and a wedding gown for the bride.  

It further includes sewing or renting the bridesmaids’ dresses and best men’s suits, and hiring a live band or a DJ for music and entertainment at the wedding ceremony. The average cost of a wedding ceremony in Eritrea, including the cost of the dowry to be paid to the bride's family, is estimated to be around $10,000 to as much as $50,000. It all depends on what the couple hopes to achieve and their willingness to spend.

Duties

The duties, roles, and responsibilities of couples in marriage are encoded in the civil code and the Sharia law (for Muslim marriages). The husband and wife have shared duties and responsibilities in the home, and these roles are divided based on gender roles. The wife is responsible for caring for, cooking for, cleaning for, and ultimately maintaining the household all by herself. Only in more urban areas does the husband help out with household chores and responsibilities. The husband and wife have a duty to provide for the material and nonmaterial needs of the family.

The provision of basic amenities is the couple's duty. The welfare of the children in marriage should be the priority of couples in marriage. They should ensure that the children have a safe and proper environment for growth and development. The husband is responsible for the economic and financial wellbeing of the family. He is obligated to provide for the needs of the home; the wife can also support it by contributing according to her means to the welfare of the family. Spouses are obligated to respect one another, love one another, be committed to the family, and ensure there is loyalty and fidelity between one another.

Conclusion 

Eritrea is a very diverse country, and marriages are celebrated in various unique ways depending on the customs and traditions of the couple. To get married in a religious or customary marriage, both partners must obtain the consent of their parents.

Religious and traditional marriages performed in Eritrea may not have legal recognition in all parts of the world; however, Eritrean civil marriages are legally binding globally. All marriages must be legally registered by the marriage officiant. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Eritrea.

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