Everything you need to know about marriage in Eswatini

24 Jul 2023·19 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Eswatini 01

Eswatini is a country in southern Africa, officially known as the Kingdom of Eswatini. The country was formerly known as Swaziland, but this name was changed in 2018. Thousands of marriages are performed every year in Eswatini by Swazi nationals and other foreign nationals. Family is the backbone of Eswatini societies, and families play important marriage roles. In ancient times, there used to be a lot of arranged marriages, but things are quite different now. When spouses became of legal age, their parents and all the family elders used to be in charge of picking a potential bride or groom for them. 

Traditionally, marriages were the norm, and spouses did not have all the freedom to choose whoever they desired as a husband or wife. In recent times, spouses often marry for life and have the full freedom to decide who they will get married to. Eswatini uses a dual legal system of common law based on Roman-Dutch law and traditional unwritten Swazi law. Civil and religious marriages are the most popular types of marriage in the country. However, civil marriages are the only ones recognized and protected by the laws of the country. There are various ethnic groups in the country, and marriages are performed according to different customs and traditions based on the region of the communities of spouses. 

Child marriages are prevalent in Eswatini, but compared to other countries in Africa, the rate of this type of marriage is facing a steady decrease. Child marriages before the age of 18 amount to 5 percent of the total number of marriages in the country. Of this prevalence rate, 1 percent of child marriages are entered into by spouses below the age of 15. The constitution of the country puts the legal marriage age at 18 years for both male and female spouses. Under some special conditions, spouses may be allowed to marry at the age of 16 or 17. Continue reading to find out more about the marriage laws and rights in Eswatini.

Civil marriages

A civil marriage is the only type of marriage that is legally binding in Eswatini. Civil marriages can be performed by both foreigners and native Swazis, and this marriage is recognized and protected in Eswatini and other countries around the world. This type of marriage takes place in the civil registry and is officiated by a state-authorized marriage registrar. Civil marriages can be performed in Eswatini or other foreign countries. For a marriage performed in a foreign country to have legal grounds, it must be conducted at the embassy or consulate of Eswatini in that country. 

The concerned authorities will provide the required guidelines as well as documents that must be submitted by both spouses before they are allowed to marry in the country. Foreigners are required to submit some special documentation along with the other required paperwork. A certificate of single status must be provided by spouses who are from other countries. This document is also mandatory for a Swazi citizen who plans to get married in another foreign country. The certificate is meant to serve as evidence that a spouse is single before contracting a marriage in Eswatini. 

Foreign spouses and native Swazi nationals are required to provide a legalized means of identification. This identification document must carry their picture and their name as they are addressed. The other documents submitted, such as the birth certificate, must have the same name, and most times, the registry will carry out background checks to ensure all the information submitted by spouses is not false. In Eswatini, both spouses must be at least 18 years old before they are allowed to marry, except under special conditions where parental consent is provided by minors. Eswatini ensures that both spouses enter the marriage freely and willingly.

Marriages are not allowed to be committed through fraud, coercion, identity theft, threats, or other illegal means. If such a marriage is performed, it will be penalized and can result in imprisonment or the payment of fines by the affected spouses. During the marriage application and registration, both spouses are required to also provide certification. They must provide valid means of identification for their witnesses as well as the certified identity card of the authorized marriage officer. Without certificates from the home country of a foreign partner that confirm their legal marital status, they will be unable to get married in Eswatini. The documents that must be submitted are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • During the registration process, both partners must provide a valid form of identification.
  • The marriage officer is required to complete and submit the BMO-3 form within a stipulated timeframe of 7 days.
  • Two witnesses who are of legal age and status in Eswatini must be provided by both spouses. 
  • A completely filled-out application form must be submitted by both spouses.
  • Residence permit. This document may be requested by a foreign spouse to serve as evidence that they lived in Eswatini for some time before the marriage.
  • Certified copies of the applicants' birth certificates must be provided.
  • Certificate confirming the partners' marital status. In the case of refugees, a valid refugee status permit must be provided.
  • A certificate of single status must be provided by foreign spouses who are getting married in Eswatini.

Religious marriages  

Religious marriages are also widely performed in Eswatini. Christianity is the predominant religion in Eswatini, with about 90 percent of the total population. With only about 2% of the population practicing Islam, it is a minor religion in the country. The rest of the people in Eswatini are those with no religious affiliations and citizens who practice traditional religions in the country. To get married in the church, both spouses are required to make a public announcement. 

This announcement may be made on a notice board in the church or during the church service. The minister in the church will make the spouses aware of all the requirements and documents they must submit before they will be permitted to conduct the marriage in the church. Church weddings usually have the family and friends of the bride and groom in attendance. In some cases, couples may wish to hold small wedding ceremonies where only close relatives are present during the church wedding before proceeding to a wedding reception that will be attended by hundreds of guests.

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Marriage traditions in Eswatini

Umtsimba 

This refers to a typical Swazi traditional wedding ceremony that is attended by the bride and groom as well as their respective families. This tradition used to be very popular in villages in ancient times, and there are usually several ceremonial rituals performed during the Umtsimba. In recent times, some families in rural areas still perform this wedding tradition.

Lobola 

In Eswatini, a marriage will not happen traditionally without the payment of a bride price. The bride's partners will draw up a bride price as soon as marriage talks start flying through the air. The bride price is referred to as the lobola, which must be paid to show appreciation to the bride's family for taking care of her.

Three-day marriage ceremonies

It is customary for a Swazi wedding ceremony to last a minimum of three days. There are different stages involved in the wedding ceremony: the bridal party, the journey from the bride's house to the groom's house, and the actual wedding ceremony. There is often a lot of feasting with foods and drinks involved in Eswatini marriages.

Same-sex marriages 

Same-sex marriages are illegal in Eswatini. Homosexuality and same-sex sexual activities are also illegal in the country, and their practices can result in legal consequences such as imprisonment and the payment of fines. For me, homosexuality is a criminal activity that can result in 10 to 14 years of imprisonment; however, this is not criminalized in the case of women.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is legal in Eswatini. Marriages between multiple people are often performed under traditional law. However, due to the high cost of dowry, this type of marriage is not common in the country. Also, the majority of people living in the country are Christians who do not bother to perform this type of marriage. Men are allowed to marry as many wives as they want.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

The Swazi customary law and the Marriages Act state the rules of marriage in eSwatini, and couples have to fulfill the requirements of these laws to be able to contract marriage. Under the law, marriage is only allowed to take place between a man and a woman who have reached the legal age of marriage. This indicates that the law only recognizes heterosexual marriages, which therefore makes same-sex marriages illegal in the country as well as any same-sex activity. The legal age for marriage in the kingdom of Eswatini is set at 18 years for both men and women. However, a minor female who is between the ages of 16 and 18 is allowed to be married, provided permission from the girl's parents and also from the Minister of Justice has been obtained. 

In accordance with the law of marriage in Eswatini, civil marriages are the only legally recognized forms of marriage in the country; other forms of marriage, such as religious or traditional marriages, are allowed but do not hold any legal value in the country. Before marriage can take place, couples must have obtained a marriage license, which grants them the right to marry within the validity period of the license. The customary law of marriage allows the practice of polygamy, wherein a man is allowed to marry more than one wife at the same time. provided he has the means to take care of all of them and their children equally, but this is against the civil laws of marriage. Under the civil laws, the groom and bride must be single; they must not be in any subsisting or legally binding relationship when trying to contract a new marriage agreement. 

The law also states that the husband and wife must give their voluntary consent to marriage, and it must be of their own free will. This therefore prohibits forced marriages in the country, and anyone who allows a firefighter marriage would face consequences. Under customary marriage laws, the bride is never asked for her consent to marriage; her silence is believed to be her consent. The marriage law also states that spouses who have been married in the past should be able to prove to the appropriate authorities that such marriage has been dissolved by submitting a certificate of divorce or a certificate of death in the case of widowhood.

Rights

The kingdom of Eswatini guarantees the rights of couples in marriage. Married couples have the right to exercise their fundamental rights, which also make up the majority of the rights of marriage in Eswatini. In marriage, the wife is only allowed to exercise her right to freedom of movement unless a detailed agreement is signed allowing the woman to engage in social activities outside the home. Men have the right to be regarded as the head of the household, and women continually have to seek their husband’s approval for any political activities. 

Under civil marriages, both the husband and wife have the right to work and receive equal payment for that work. In customary marriages, the husband has the autonomous right to decide on the affairs of the family, totally excluding the wife from the decision-making process. Wives are allowed to work, but they must receive permission from their husbands, and he has the ultimate right to stop her from working if he thinks the work is affecting her duties in the home. The couple has the same right to be recognized as the legal guardians of the children and to exercise parental authority over them, which must not be abused. In a civil marriage, the husband and wife have the right to initiate divorce only on the grounds of desertion or adultery. 

Under customary laws, there is no such thing as a legal divorce, but it can be obtained through traditional means. The husband and wife have the right to property and inheritance, and although there is an unbalance in the equality of rights between the husband and wife, at the time of marriage they have the right to come to an agreement on the type of marital regime of property that would be in effect during the marriage. Couples have the right to choose a separate marital regime or a joint marital regime of property. At the demise of one of the spouses, the surviving spouse has the right to inherit the property, land, and non-land assets of the ex-spouse, whether there is a will in play or not.

Costs

To get married, Eswatini couples are required to pay a fee to obtain a marriage license, obtain a marriage certificate, and also register their marriage. The sum of 30,000 Emalangeni must be paid by citizens of Eswatini who wish to marry foreigners. This fee must be paid to the appropriate authorities to be able to register marriage in Eswatini. A fee of 100 lilangeni is to be paid for the application for a marriage license in the country. 

The average cost of a wedding in Eswatini is estimated to be around 10,000 emaslangeni, and it can easily increase depending on how financially capable the couple and their families are. This cost does not often cover the cost of the bride's dowry. Some families can decide to include the cost of the dowry in the initial wedding budget, while others do not.

Duties

The duties of the husband and wife in marriage in Eswatini are divided according to their gender roles in the home. The husband is regarded as the head of the home; therefore, he has a duty to make all the important family decisions. Despite the wife's exclusion from this process, she has a duty to ensure that she provides her husband with good counsel as regards his decisions concerning the family. 

The husband has a duty to provide for the material and nonmaterial needs of the family. The duties and responsibilities in the home rest on the shoulders of the wife; she is responsible for taking care of the home, taking care of the children, and her husband. The husband and wife are expected to be hospitable to visitors and their various family members. Spouses should make it their responsibility to ensure that the children in the home are well taken care of.

In Summary 

Eswatini is multi-cultural and multi-religious. Marriages are special occasions in the country that are often anticipated by both spouses as well as their families and friends. Civil and religious marriages are the most popular types of marriages in the country, but a civil marriage is the only type of marriage that is recognized in the country and other countries around the world.

In Eswatini, most people are Christians, and a lot of marriages are celebrated in the church. Church marriages are officiated by a registered pastor or priest, and in some communities, couples are not recognized as being officially married until a church wedding is performed. However, this is not legally binding. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Eswatini.

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